The Mediterranean Diet and Heart Disease

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“The Mediterranean Diet” has been found, through epidemiological studies showing particularly low incidence of heart disease in the Mediterranean Basin, to be effective in combating heart disease.

The cardio-protective properties in many of the foods consumed in countries like Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain and France gave rise to the term “The Mediterranean Diet”. The benefits of this style of eating have been found through epidemiological studies which show a particularly low incidence of heart disease in the Mediterranean Basin.

The Mediterranean Diet was first publicized in the U.S. in 1945, due to the work of Dr Ancel Keys, stationed in Salerno, Italy. The diet became popular in the 1990’s when further supporting research, such as the DART (Diet and Re-infarction Trial), was undertaken. DART concentrated on ways to reduce the chance of a second coronary incident occurring in people with existing heart disease. It was found that though people in Mediterranean countries consume higher amounts of fat, they have much lower instances of cardiovascular disease.

A more detailed look found that the type of foods eaten in the Mediterranean diet are much healthier for the heart as they are rich in omega 3 essential fats, monounsaturated oils and antioxidants. Vegetables in this diet are not cooked for long periods of time and raw vegetables and fruits are also often included. In this kind of diet, large amounts of vegetable protein are eaten while saturated fat from animal protein is low. In addition, the total amount of saturated fats and trans fats, which increase blood cholesterol levels, are low. Monounsaturated fats replace these bad fats, therefore benefiting the treatment of heart disease.

Large amounts of plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables are features of Mediterranean countries. Varieties of anti-oxidants – vitamins A, C and E contained in these foods help prevent the hardening of bad cholesterol in the arteries. They are also rich in potassium which helps regulate blood pressure, and contain folic acid which assists in reducing the formation of homocyteine, which can contribute to heart disease.

Because of the cholesterol-lowering properties of soluble fiber, complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds may also be beneficial.

Oily fishes such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna are the focal points of the Mediterranean way of eating. Fish that is rich in omega 3 is particularly beneficial for the heart. These benefits include lowering heart arrhythmias, lowering the stickiness of the blood and minimizing injury to artery walls. Try to eat two portions of fish every week  – try grilling salmon fillets with slices of ginger and garlic, or mashing up some tinned sardines with lemon and black pepper and spreading over toasted bread.

The key to Mediterranean cooking is olive oil. The monounsaturated fats contained in this fruity oil reduce heart disease, decrease bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol, helping to clear the arteries. The phenols contained in olive oil have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and clot-preventing functions. Studies published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggest that virgin or extra virgin olive oils are beneficial because of their high phenol content.

People residing in the Mediterranean region consume almost as much wine as they do food. The compounds in wine appear to moderately increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Though wine contains some anti-oxidant substances, it is important to avoid excessive amounts of alcohol, as alcohol in excessive amounts may be more harmful then beneficial. As with any other dietary change, the Mediterranean way of eating will have a maximum effect in reducing heart disease when accompanied with other positive lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and increasing one’s level of exercise.


Author: Mitanis Team

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