A traditional Mediterranean diet that includes a healthy serving of nuts each day (about 1/4 cup) may help reverse a cluster of risk factors for heart disease, according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In the study of more than 1,200 older adults at high risk of heart disease, Spanish researchers found that those who followed the diet had lower rates of metabolic syndrome - a clustering of risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which includes high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, elevated blood sugar and low HDL (good) cholesterol.
The prevalence of metabolic syndrome among the men and women who followed the nut-enriched Mediterranean diet fell by nearly 14 percent over one year compared with roughly 7 percent among study participants who followed a traditional Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil.
In a third study group that received advice to follow a low-fat diet, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome dipped by only 2 percent.
The findings suggest that the Mediterranean diet can help manage metabolic syndrome, even without weight loss or exercise. They also imply that the benefits may be greater when people use nuts as a major fat source instead of olive oil.
Both study groups on the Mediterranean diet increased their intake of extra- virgin olive oil, and research has shown olive oil to have cardiovascular benefits.
However, the researchers point out, unlike olive oil, nuts are "whole foods" that provide nutrients other than healthy fats -- including fibre, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Walnuts also contain substantially more of a heart-healthy omega-3 fat called alpha linolenic acid than olive oil does.
Those nutrients have been shown to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation, and improve the body's use of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
A longer-term follow-up is now needed, the researchers say, to see if the Mediterranean diets prevent heart attacks and other complications of metabolic syndrome.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
There's no one typical Mediterranean diet. At least 16 countries border the Mediterranean Sea, countries with different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and dietary practices. But there is a common pattern to the Mediterranean diet...
- Fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds are eaten daily
- Extra virgin olive is the predominant source of added fat
- Dairy products, fish and poultry are eaten in moderate amounts
- Eggs are eaten zero to 4 times weekly
- Red meat is seldom eaten.
- Wine is consumed with meals, in low to moderate amounts
How can this pattern of eating protect your heart? Aside from the fact it is high in plant foods that contain antioxidants and fibre, its monounsaturated fat content is thought to take some credit. Research shows that when you substitute monounsaturated fat for saturated fat in your diet you can lower high levels of blood cholesterol, in particular LDL cholesterol. Some studies suggest that extra virgin olive oil helps prevent blood clots from forming and acts as an antioxidant to help protect from heart disease.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.