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Mediterranean diet tests prove health benefits

By Colin Ricketts - 16 Nov 2011 20:0:0 GMT
Mediterranean diet tests prove health benefits

Mediterranean food via Shutterstock

While the economies of southern Europe are giving the world's financial markets the jitters and causing real hardship for their citizens, a scientific study has confirmed the long-held belief that the Mediterranean diet is very good for you.

The research, by John Hopkins University in Baltimore will be presented to the American Heart Association's scientific meeting in Orlando, Florida next week, and heart health and diabetes were at the heart of the new evidence.

The Mediterranean diet is so well established that it's even been recognised by UNESCO, the United Nations Cultural Organisation, as a part of the heritage of Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco and one of the area's great contributions to the world.

The diet is high in unsaturated fats, usually sourced from olives and olive oil, nuts and avocados. The John Hopkins team say that introducing these fats into the diet is good for the heart, even if patients don't lose weight as part of the process. The diet also avoids highly processed carbohydrates, like white bread and white pasta.

This study, led by postdoctoral fellow Meghana Gadgil, M.D., M.P.H., looked at evidence from the OmniHeart Trial. This trial put 164 people with slightly raised blood pressure but who had no diabetes through a programme of three diets: a high carbohydrate diet, a high protein diet and one with a lot of unsaturated fats - the so-called Mediterranean diet. The insulin and blood sugar levels of participants were tested after six weeks on each diet and up to a month back on their regular diet. Poor insulin use is a pre-indicator of type two diabetes and subsequent heart disease.

The diets were otherwise balanced, and the research confirmed that the Mediterranean diet came out tops for insulin use.

"The introduction of the right kind of fat into a healthy diet is another tool to reduce the risk of future heart disease," Gadgil said.

"A lot of studies have looked at how the body becomes better at using insulin when you lose weight," Gadgil says. "We kept the weight stable so we could isolate the effects of the macronutrients. What we found is that you can begin to see a beneficial impact on heart health even before weight loss."

Typically, the Mediterranean diet is characterised by lots of olive oil, legumes like peas, beans and lentils, whole foods and plenty of fruit and vegetables. Mediterranean diets are relatively low in dairy products and favour fish over meat - all washed down with wine, in moderate amounts of course.

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Topics: Heart Health