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A Heart-Healthy Diet
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My grandparents came to the United States from Greece between 1900 and 1925. They brought their cuisine with them, and passed it on to my parents. When I was a kid, my brothers and I ate differently than most of our friends. We ate more fish and poultry, and less red meat. There was a lot more emphasis on fresh fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereal grains. On top of that, my parents used olive oil regularly, both in cooking and as salad dressing.

My friends thought what we ate was weird. We did not care. We thought it tasted good.

I eat that way today. Although my wife came from a family that had been in America since before the revolution she found she liked the food I liked so much. She started cooking the same way once we got married.

It turns out what we were eating was what today is being called the Mediterranean diet.1 It is getting a lot of press recently as a healthy way to eat. It is especially touted as a means of reducing cardiovascular disease.

I have lived through many food fads. When I first started hearing buzz about the Mediterranean diet wondered how much of what I heard was real, and how much was just hype.

Within my own family there has been almost no history of heart disease. My grandparents all died in their late 80s, due to factors other than heart problems. My parents are approaching that age, and both are in reasonable health. My brothers and I have all avoided cardiovascular issues – a minor miracle in my case, as I have always been chunky.

It Tastes Good

Yet correlation does not imply causation. There could be reasons other than our diet accounting for our heart healthiness. Not that I minded another reason to continue eating as I always have. It tastes good.  Still, I did wonder.

A recent study conducted in Spain indicates that the Mediterranean Diet does indeed reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. It also lowers cholesterol levels and mitigates hypertension.

The study ran five years, and involved over 7000 participants. Results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2013.2 One of the most surprising results was that the Mediterranean Diet, which involves consumption of relatively high levels of vegetable fats actually proved superior to a low fat diet in protecting against heart disease.  

Additionally, the study showed that the Mediterranean diet actually reduced heart-related problems among people at high risk for cardiovascular problems. Maybe other factors contributed to my heart-healthy family, but the Mediterranean diet actually helped.

Three elements seem most responsible for the benefits gained:

1. Substitution of olive oil for animal fats in cooking.
2. Daily consumption of nuts, which are high in antioxidants.
3. Elimination of consumption of distilled alcohol

So, it turns out that the diet I follow not only tastes great–it is good for me. Maybe you should try it, too.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

1 www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/149090.php
2 www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1200303#Top=&t=articleResults

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