More Good News About The Mediterranean Diet
Latest studies confirm benefits for cardiovascular health and weight
By Karen Collins, R.D.
Special to MSNBC
Updated: 5:33 a.m. ET Oct. 29, 2004
Two new studies bring positive attention back to the Mediterranean Diet. One study tracked more than 2,300 healthy elderly men and women from eleven different European countries for ten years. Those people with eating habits that met at least half the criteria of a Mediterranean diet suffered at least 25 percent fewer deaths during that period.
In fact, people who ate a mostly Mediterranean diet, exercised moderately, drank little to moderate amounts of alcohol, and didn’t smoke had 65 percent fewer deaths than those who followed none or only one of these healthy habits. Avoidance of these healthy habits was strongly linked to death from cancer or heart disease.
The other new study involved people with metabolic syndrome, a disorder linked with heart risk. The warning signs for this disorder are waistline obesity, low HDL (good) cholesterol, high blood triglycerides and insulin resistance. Half of the participants in this study were told to follow a Mediterranean-style diet and the other half a traditional low-fat diet. Both groups were asked to increase their exercise.
In time, the Mediterranean group showed reduced markers for inflammation, which is linked to a risk of heart disease and cancer. Markers for blood vessel health also improved for this group. After two years, less than half of the group on the Mediterranean diet still had metabolic syndrome, while almost everyone on the traditional low-fat diet still had it.
Studies back earlier findings
The associations seen in these two studies between a Mediterranean-style of eating with a lower risk of heart disease repeat the findings of past studies. A recent review of many studies on the Mediterranean diet found that the risk of heart disease can drop from 8 percent to 45 percent if people follow this diet. More surprisingly, a recent study found that those who met most of the criteria for a Mediterranean diet lowered their risk of heart attack by more than 80 percent compared to those who met only one or two criteria.
In addition to heart disease and cancer, the Mediterranean diet may help control weight as well. In the new study with people afflicted by metabolic syndrome, those on a Mediterranean diet lost more weight than those on a low-fat diet — a total difference of nine pounds in two years. In an earlier study, a group with a Mediterranean-style diet of moderate fat content lost the same amount of weight at first as another group on a low-fat diet, but the Mediterranean group kept the weight off better. In fact, only one-fifth of the low-fat group could stick to their diet.
Not all foods get a green light
Not all so-called Mediterranean foods should form a frequent part of a health-oriented Mediterranean diet, however. Many high-fat dishes and rich desserts, like lasagna and tiramisu, have become even less healthy in America. Originally, these dishes were special occasion treats. And although this diet does feature olive oil as the main source of fat, the large amounts traditionally used were appropriate for extremely active farming people. Olive oil can still be the primary source of fat for us, but it should be used in moderation to suit our lower calorie needs.
Furthermore, alcohol in a Mediterranean diet means one or two glasses of wine daily. For example, in the recent study of older Europeans, the healthy women averaged about three glasses per week.
To create a healthy Mediterranean-style diet for yourself, focus primarily on eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains with daily servings of dried beans, nuts, or seeds. If you eat red meat, consume only small amounts. Serve fish regularly. Olive oil should be your main source of fat, instead of butter or margarine. And instead of high-fat, high-sugar desserts and bakery products, choose fruits, except for special occasions.
I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately, too! I think we're all on the same track here, and are tired of gimmicks and just want what is healthiest for us, overall. I've just bought a copy of the Newly Revised and Updated Mediterranean Diet, and I'm looking forward to reading it. I also have a few other books on the topic, just waiting to be read. I've toyed with the idea of it in the past, but have yet to dive in and do something about it. I hope others will also grasp the idea of this in the future, and perhaps we could add a Mediterranean forum!
I think it will take off in about another 5 years, once the LC craze has died down and the low fat/low calorie finds its way back in.
I need to find a good book that outlines the diet. Meaning, giving examples of 1400 calories a day, examples of breakfast, lunch & dinner, etc. My mind is so boggled with every sort of diet there is right now I can't think strait lol. Sad eh.
I think a Mediterranean forum would be a great idea since it's a healthy option that a LOT of people might want to explore, especially once January rolls around. If you start a forum for it, Suzanne, perhaps you could offer some book recommendations for people who are interested in learning more about it?
I think you're both right - that people are tried of gimmicks and quick fixes and are looking for ways to permanently change their eating (and that of their families). Unfortunately, it seems that the multi-billion dollar food industry is working against the simple concept of healthy unprocessed foods since there's little $$ in it for them. In my (totally biased) opinion, none of us should be eating 95% of what's sold in grocery stores today, and that's not even touching the whole restaurant issue.
Natural, unprocessed foods, heavy on the fruits and veggies, fish, whole grains, olive oil -- what a revolutionary concept!
Start: 257 - June 1, 2001
Goal: 135 - May 12, 2002
Size 22/size 4
Now why haven't you asked me about this? How do you think I've lost most of my weight? The Meditteranean diet.
I could be better incorporating more legumes in my diet and cutting back on the chicken and fish, but otherwise this is the way I've lost 80 pounds. I am a big fan of this way of eating because I can do this for life. I've found some wonderful whole grains and so many wonderful new flavors. This way of eating is far from boring, isn't expensive and makes me feel great!
And as a bonus, my Chol dropped 52 points.
I'd love to see a Mediterranean forum.
"What are you REALLY hungry for?"
Yay! We'll definitely do it! LindaT, I'll look forward to hearing about some of your experiences
We're planning to do a book review of the New and Revised Med Diet for December, and we'll put together a list of resources. I'd like to start the new forum then, but I might get excited and do it early
This Washington Post article about the benefits of olive oil fits right in with the good news about the Mediterranean Diet -
Olive Oil: The Slippery Details
By Lean Plate Club
Tuesday, November 9, 2004; Page HE01
It's official: Under a "qualified health claim" granted last week by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), bottles of olive oil can now boast what proponents of the Mediterranean style of eating have long contended: Olive oil may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
That's because olive oil contains mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which lower the dangerous type of blood cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Polyunsaturated fat, such as safflower oil, does the same. Neither affects the "good cholesterol" (high-density lipoprotein, HDL). But olive oil also appears to reduce the inflammation tied to artery damage and it seems to keep the inner lining of arteries calm and less likely to contract in a dangerous way.
But before you start drizzling olive oil on everything but your breakfast cereal, read the fine print of the new claim -- it's based on "limited and not conclusive scientific evidence," says the FDA -- and listen to what experts advise:
Swap, don't add. All fat has nine calories per gram -- more than twice the amount found in protein or carbohydrates. The health claim, which can be put on olive oil labels as well as on labels of foods rich in olive oil, designates just 23 daily grams of olive oil -- about two tablespoons -- as possibly beneficial in preventing heart disease. The FDA's intent is for olive oil "to replace a similar amount of saturated fat" -- not to increase the total number of calories consumed. Doing that could boost weight, itself a risk factor for heart disease.
Let's do the math: Two tablespoons of olive oil have 240 calories. If those are added to the diet rather than replacing other foods, that could add an extra 20 pounds to a person's weight in a year.
"The issue is keeping calories in balance," said Meir J. Stampfer, professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Olive oil is a fat, it's not a low-fat food." So use it to replace saturated-fat-rich butter, some margarines or unhealthy salad dressings, but not to add fat.
Measure, measure, measure. If you freely pour olive oil on your salad, pasta or in a skillet, "you have no idea how much you put in," said registered dietitian Cathy Nonas, director of obesity and diabetes programs at North General Hospital in New York. Just half a cup of olive oil has 1,000 calories -- nearly a day's worth for many people. And that popular practice of dipping bread in olive oil at restaurants? That's easily "four tablespoons of olive oil -- 480 calories -- before the bread," Nonas notes. "So portion out your olive oil, no matter how heart-heathy it is. Eating olive oil is healthy, but obesity is not."
Make olive oil part of an overall smart food regimen. "It's not just one thing that makes a diet healthy," said Valentin Fuster, director of the cardiovascular institute at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York and a past president of the American Heart Association. "It's important that people don't take this as the answer to all the dietary problems or have olive oil and then eat everything else that they want."
Focus first, he said, on eating fruit, vegetables and whole grains, then add the olive oil -- as well as other healthy foods, including beans, fish, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, lean meat and poultry without the skin. It's this combination of foods in the Mediterranean diet -- as well as more physical activity -- that appears to lower heart disease risk.
Use olive oil to enhance healthy foods. Odds are you probably won't be replacing butter or margarine with olive oil on your breakfast toast. But a little olive oil on pasta or rice is a good idea. Top a salad with olive oil for great taste; this may help you and your family eat more salad. Sauté lean meat, fish, poultry or even your grilled (preferably low-fat) cheese sandwich in olive oil instead of butter. Ditto for broccoli, spinach and other vegetables. Not only does it boost flavor, but olive oil also helps increase absorption of vitamins A, E and K.
Look to other healthy oils. Which ones? Canola, soybean and safflower oils are also heart-healthy choices, notes Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition at Tufts University and chair of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee. Some margarine-like spreads, such as Take Control and Benecol, contain plant stanols and sterols that have been proven to help lowerLDL by as much as 6 percent. Other food sources of healthy fat include fish, flaxseed, avocados, nuts and, of course, olives. But you'd have to eat a lot of them -- an estimated 23 jumbo olives, about 280 calories -- to get the equivalent amount of healthy fat found in those two tablespoons of olive oil.
I haven't checked out the updated Mediterranean diet book yet (but plan to). If you haven't already, check out Walter Willett's "Eat, Drink, & Be Healthy" the Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. The recommendations are very similar to the Mediterranean, and it explains a lot of the reseach/reasoning behind it all.
I've been eating like this for years -- but not 100%, and I just can't seem to get the right balance of things.
There will be soon Actually, there will be a whole forum! I've learned to appreciate olive oil, lol. I am really looking forward to learning more about this type of eating, and am glad that there are so many people here with experience already
A friend of mine who eats nothing but olive oil makes mashed potatoes with it instead of butter, this is what he grew up on in italy. He and his entire family are healthy and fit (well they look it anyway) the parents are in their late 80's and are very healthy (old school folks).
My Dad was Italian and that is how he mainly ate, fruits, veggies, legumes, small amounts of meat with no fat on it, some cheese, limited bread, very few if any processed foods, not much sugar, though some. And a glass of red wine at the main meal at lunchtime. A very simple diet, yet satisfying. He lived to 94. His younger brother to 92. And several other relatives into thier 90's as well. And Dad was a natural eater besides. But I can remember how my Dad ate very clearly, and this has taught me much in my own eating recovery. He was not fond of olive oil, but he ate very few fatty things anyway. And on those very rare occasions when he took a piece of birthday cake, his first motion was to uncerimoniously scrape the frosting off the top. Too bad I took after Mom with respect to eating.