New Study: Mediterranean Diet Good for the Heart? We Already Knew That.

February 26, 2013
By

Greek octopus & peppers

The media particularly in the U.S. has been going crazy with this latest study with headlines such as “Mediterranean Diet study rocks the medical world”,  “Pour on the olive oil!”  “The New Gold Standard”, “Mediterranean diet slashes risk”. Really? You would think that all these headlines would make me, of all people happy, but it is actually disappointing. These journalists are reporting this as if it is the first time they have ever heard that the Mediterranean diet is good for the heart.

The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine basically showed that people who followed a Mediterranean diet who were at high risk for heart disease had 30% less cardiovascular incidents compared to those who followed a low fat diet. This is wonderful news and the study is fine, it is the media coverage that is somewhat problematic.

Further Confirmation of the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet But Nothing New
The study was slightly over exaggerated in the media and I am not sure why. Perhaps because the Mediterranean diet appeared to have better results then the typical low-fat diet that is often prescribed. In any case this is not the first time we hear of this. In fact I had reported on preliminary results of this study (Predimed) in Olive Oil Times a year and half ago back in 2011 where researchers from the same intervention study showed that individuals who followed the Mediterranean diet were able to reverse arteriosclerosis (hardening of arteries) more effectively then medication.

The media talks about a gigantic study, not exactly, a bit over 7000 individuals and it is reported in the media that “Few previous studies have succeeded in proving a direct link between a diet and a reduction in life-threatening events like strokes.” I’m not sure it’s a direct link. And I think we need to note the Greek segment of the EPIC Study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) that followed over 23000 people for over 10 years and also reported less cardiovascular incidents and deaths in relation the Mediterranean diet.

I think this study is important but it did not discover something new, it is just a confirmation that the Mediterranean diet is good for prevention of cardiovascular disease particularly for people at risk.

Are You Really Following a Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet can and should be used as the treatment diet for individuals with cardiovascular risk (not the only treatment, medications do play a role in many cases). Many cardiologists here in Greece recommend the traditional Greek diet to their patients. We know that low fat diets have a low compliance rate due to their palatability and often people replace fat with processed carbohydrates, so the Mediterranean diet is an ideal choice, it has research to support it and it is a real (not man-made) diet.

The important issue as I see it is that individuals need to follow the real Mediterranean diet, not what they think it is, which usually is described as this: vegetables, olive oil, nuts and wine, and… oh and yes pasta. That is not a Mediterranean diet. And this misconception is not only present among the general public but also among health professionals. I have read comments and articles by several health professionals (including doctors and nutritionists) describe the Mediterranean diet as including “plenty of pasta”, “lots of red wine” and that “there is too much olive oil”.

So before doctors or other health professionals can recommend this diet they first need to know what it is and where it came from.

Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis for Flickr
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7 Responses to New Study: Mediterranean Diet Good for the Heart? We Already Knew That.

  1. diana
    February 26, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Great article! I’m curious what you think of the quiz that the NYT posted along with their front-page article? Do you think these questions are valid – or are there some that shouldn’t be there or perhaps some missing? http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/26/health/26diet.html

    • Elena Paravantes RD
      February 26, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks Diana! The questionnaire in the NYT is actually the one that the Spanish researchers used. It is a valid questionnaire but a bit simplistic and it also reflects more of a Spanish population.

  2. diana
    February 26, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Ah, okay – I missed that! I did wonder why the questionnaire included the word ‘sofrito’! Thanks for your response!

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