The Mediterranean Diet Shows Benefits to the Heart

For the first time, research has shown that a diet can be as powerful at preventing heart disease as a drug.

A recent study in Spain found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet had 30 percent fewer deaths from heart disease compared with people not following the diet.

This gets cardiologists like Dr. Steven Nissen at the Cleveland Clinic, pretty excited. He applauds the study because it used rigorous scientific methods and got meaningful results.

NISSEN: What they found was so striking, was an enormous reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death in the patients that were on this very palatable diet, something that is easy for people to follow.

Nutrition research is notoriously hard to do—it’s expensive and tough to manage.

Previous studies on the Mediterranean diet have shown some health benefit but nothing of this caliber.

Fish, nuts, olive oil, beans and vegetables are the staples of it, and dietician Janice Friswold from University Hospitals says she’s been recommending this kind of eating for years, especially the produce.

FRISWOLD: As dieticians, we’re always pushing people to eat more fruits and vegetables.

But the critical point about the Mediterranean diet, say both Nissen and Friswold, is its emphasis on healthy fats, like olive or canola oil, rather than the saturated fat found in red meat and dairy.

NISSEN: What makes the Mediterranean diet work is that it’s a very balanced diet. We need fats—we just need healthy fats.

This news comes as a shock to some people with heart conditions. Sharon from Mayfield Heights called in to the show.

SHARON: I have badly blocked arteries. I’m a vegetarian and I’ve been avoiding fats for years because of the arteries. I’ve had four stents that keep them open.

The Clinic’s Steven Nissen says this new study provides evidence that people like Sharon should in fact eat certain fats.

NISSEN: We now know that a diet that has these healthy fats, such as olives, olive oil, canola oil, nuts, in fact is a better diet, certainly for people at high risk for disease.

While the study makes clear the benefits to heart health, it shows no effect on weight loss.

For that, says Nissen, you gotta break a sweat.

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