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Examiner
  • Lori Boyajian-O'Neill: Mediterranean diets impress researchers

  • It has long been known that people living in Mediterranean countries tend to have longer lifespans than those in Western Europe and North America. Why? Genetics? Physical activity? Diet? As reported in a landmark study published last week, all arrows point to the legendary Mediterranean diet as the central factor for heart health and longevity.

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  • It has long been known that people living in Mediterranean countries tend to have longer lifespans than those in Western Europe and North America. Why? Genetics? Physical activity? Diet? As reported in a landmark study published last week, all arrows point to the legendary Mediterranean diet as the central factor for heart health and longevity.
    The Mediterranean diet, what do you know? T or F?
    1. Walnuts have high levels of anti-oxidants.
    2. Corn oil has heart healthy fats.
    3. Low-fat diets are best for heart health.
    There is not one specific Mediterranean diet. Rather, it is a general approach to diet found in countries nestled along the Mediterranean Sea. As agrarians, the farmers and shepherds of the Mediterranean region brought the fruits of the land to their tables including olives, fruits, nuts and grains.
    Olives contain monounsaturated fats, primarily oleic acid, an antioxidant which is cardioprotective. Fat, it seems, is good, if it is the right fat. Olive oil is the right fat. Since heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the U.S., this cardioprotective effect may change our collective aversion to fat. Might physicians start prescribing a couple tablespoons of olive oil as part of a heart healthy lifestyle?
    In their study, researchers at the University of Barcelona divided 7,447 subjects into three groups. Two groups consumed a traditional Mediterranean diet – one supplemented with olive oil, the other supplemented with nuts. A third group, the controls, consumed a low-fat diet (of the type we Americans love).
    Those consuming a Mediterranean diet with olive oil and nuts were 30 percent and 28 percent less likely to experience a cardiovascular event such as stroke, heart attack or cardiovascular death.
    These numbers are so shocking that the study was stopped so data could be further analyzed and reported publicly. One of the lead researchers concluded, “... the results of the PREDIMED trial are of utmost importance because they convincingly demonstrate that a high vegetable fat dietary pattern is superior to a low-fat diet for cardiovascular prevention.”
    What does a traditional Mediterranean diet look like? It features high intake of olive oil, fruits, nuts, vegetables and whole grains; moderate intake of fish and poultry and low intake of red and processed meats, dairy and sweets. There is moderate wine consumption and typically only with meals. Viola! Your ticket to a long life.
    If you wish to transition to a Mediterranean diet, consider starting your meals with some crusty whole grain bread and olive oil for dipping. Think of it as an alternative to the pre-meal white bread and butter. Oils and whole grains take longer to exit the stomach so you feel full and likely will eat less during dinner. Selecting two days that are meatless and limiting red wine to meals will get you off to a great start. If you own a sweet tooth, have fruit on hand to satisfy that after-dinner crave.
    Page 2 of 2 - What nuts are recommended? Walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds are touted as having great levels of anti-oxidants. In the study the mix was 50 percent walnuts and 25 percent each of hazelnuts and almonds.
    We are a nation of immigrants, and our diversity of cultures and customs enriches us deeply. Our tables reflect this diversity and influence our health. This study makes it clear that our Mediterranean friends and neighbors have long held the key to a long life right in their kitchens.
    Answers: 1. T 2.; F 3.; F.
    Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at lori.boyajian-oneill@hcahealthcare.com.
     
     
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