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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mediterranean Diet Gets a Boost from Science

A Mediterranean climate is indisputably one of the best in the world. Mediterranean diets have frequently claimed to be equally good, and today there was some published evidence in the New England Journal of Medicine supporting that idea. The essence of the Mediterranean diet is that it "is characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation, consumed with meals." It turns out that for many people this kind of a diet can lower your risk of heart disease. The New York Times summarizes the research.
The findings...were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.
Heart disease experts said the study was a triumph because it showed that a diet was powerful in reducing heart disease risk, and it did so using the most rigorous methods. Scientists randomly assigned 7,447 people in Spain who were overweight, were smokers, or had diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat one.
The participants stayed with the Mediterranean diet, the investigators reported. But those assigned to a low-fat diet did not lower their fat intake very much. So the study wound up comparing the usual modern diet, with its regular consumption of red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods, with a diet that shunned all that.
A key caveat noted by the researchers is that the study focused on high-risk people, and so it cannot show that low-risk people will necessarily have similar dramatic results. But, hey, why take a chance? This is so closely connected to all aspects of the nutrition transition (and how humans have strayed into bad diets) that we have to pay attention.

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