February is National Heart Month to raise awareness of heart disease in the United States, which is the number one cause of death. More and more doctors are recommending following a heart-healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease. This includes consuming a Mediterranean kind of diet. During the 1950s it was noted that people living in countries around the Mediterranean Sea had lower rates of heart disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes than people living in other parts of Europe. Since then scientists have been trying to find out exactly how the Mediterranean diet protects against cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes. The researchers also want to identify exactly which foods in the Mediterranean diet are the most heart-healthy. A recent Spanish study showed that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts or extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) showed the most heart-healthy results in preventing heart disease. The Spanish study was published June 21, 2018, in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Mediterranean Diet with Nuts or Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) Reduced Risk for a Heart Attack or Stroke
Researchers at the Instituto de Salud Carlos III in Madrid, Spain followed 7,447 participants ages 55-80 who were at a high risk for cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes. They divided the participants into three groups and followed after them for 4.8 years. The three groups were:
- A Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- A Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts
- A control low-fat diet
Results of the Study
There were 83 strokes, heart attacks or death from a cardiovascular cause in the group that consumed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts.
There were 96 heart attacks, strokes or death from a cardiovascular cause in those who consumed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil.
There were 109 heart attacks, strokes or deaths from a cardiovascular cause in those who were on a low-fat diet.
The researchers conclude that the results of their study support earlier studies that also found that following a Mediterranean diet is a primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. They suggest adding fish, avocados, nuts and extra virgin olive oil to the diet. It appears that the tree oils found in nuts like almonds and walnuts and in olives may be the main reason for the success of the Mediterranean Diet in Preventing Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).
Mediterranean Diet Lowered Risk for a First Heart Attack or Stroke by 28% in Women
There have been many studies showing a strong association between following a Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. In fact, a study published December 7, 2018 in JAMA by researchers in Sweden and Harvard University showed that women following a Mediterranean diet had a 28% decrease in the risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) like heart attacks and strokes. This was a large cohort study of 25,994 American women who had no previous history of cardiovascular disease. The women were followed for 12 years from April 30, 1993 to January 24, 1996. The researchers discovered that the Mediterranean diet improved inflammation, blood sugar levels and body mass index.
Mediterranean Diet Prevented a Recurrent Heart Attack by 50-70% in Men
Results of a French study called the Lyon Heart Trial were published in the Circulation journal in April, 2001.
The Lyon Diet Heart Trial carried out on 605 French men who already had experienced a heart attack showed that following a Mediterranean diet resulted in 50-70% less chance of getting another heart attack.
The Mediterranean Diet
There is no such thing as one kind of Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean area has 22 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the countries that are close to those countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea also tend to follow a Mediterranean dietary pattern. There are many different cultural, religious and ethnic customs between these countries with many different kinds of cuisines and varied growing and cooking practices. However, there are some common dietary customs they all hold in common such as:
- The diet is high in fruits and root and green leafy vegetables as well as potatoes.
- The diet is high in bread and cereals including many that are whole grained.
- The diet includes legumes like beans and chick peas.
- The diet includes nuts and seeds.
- Olive oil is an important source of fat and in some countries it is the main and sole source of dietary fat.
- The diet is low in dairy products and most of these that are included in the diet are fermented dairy products like yogurt. Also, there are cheeses like the feta cheese.
- The diet is high in fish and seafood and lower in poultry and contains very little red meat.
- Eggs are not usually consumed in large amounts – at the most about 4 times a week.
- Wine is drunk in low to moderate amounts with meals
- Fresh and dried herbs are plentiful in all the countries such as garlic, onions, leeks, parsley, cilantro, dill, basil, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, marjoram and oregano and many of these are also heart healthy. Turmeric and hot chile peppers are also popular in some of the countries. Greek Sage or tri-lobed sage is drunk as tea in Greece. Spearmint, verbena (Louisa) and wormwood teas are very popular in some of the North African countries and Israel.
Post Stroke or Cardiac Rehabilitation
If you or your loved one are in need of rehabilitation following a stroke or heart attack, the Park Crescent Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in East Orange, New Jersey offers excellent post stroke and cardiac rehabilitation.
It certainly pays to try to lower risks for cardiovascular disease by following a heart-healthy Mediterranean kind of diet including nuts and extra virgin olive oil.