What the Mediterranean Diet Study Means to You

This article was featured in my Holistic Outlook column for The Times Herald Record.

Have you read the latest research? Here’s the bottom line: Diets enriched by generous amounts of either nuts or extra virgin olive oil reduced cardiovascular risk by 30%. The control group, assigned to a low fat, diet did not reduce risk at all. In fact, the study ended early because all participants were at high risk for heart disease, and it was deemed unethical to keep the control group on a low fat diet. This is consistent with the Women’s Health initiative, where a low fat diet resulted in no cardiovascular benefit.

Body Chemistry is A Complex Thing

I hope this definitively eliminates the myth that a low fat diet is healthy. That myth comes from a reductionist view of nutrition that says: some foods have fat, fat in the body is bad, therefore don’t eat foods with fat. But as I have written before, our bodies are complex chemistry labs, not simple ledgers. It is sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods that make us fat and unhealthy, not fats, and certainly not healthy fats.

Another notable factor is that people were able to stick with the Mediterranean diet for five years. (Adherence was monitored with specific urine markers to ensure the recommended foods were being consumed.) This makes sense. Fat is satisfying. It helps stabilize blood sugar and both creates and maintains satiety. The low-fat control group was not as successful.

What did they eat?

A minimum of either 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (on salads or cooked vegetables, not for cooking) or 1/4 cup of walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds every day. A minimum of 2 servings daily of vegetables and 3 of fruit; beans or legumes at least 3 times a week; fish at least 3 times a week; some poultry. They had eggs, and drank a little wine with meals. They limited red meat, processed meat, dairy, and baked goods. There were no calorie restrictions and no instruction to exercise or increase activity. The main change in nutrition was the increase in healthy fat.

The study was conducted in Spain and funded by the Spanish government. The authors speculate that since the normal diet there is closer to the Mediterranean diet, the benefit might be even greater for those eating a typical Western diet. I heartily encourage you to find out.

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