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Natural Foods Prevail: Olive Oil and Nuts More Effective Than Drugs

Early results from a Spanish cohort study featuring 7500 people with heart disease risk have found Mediterranean diets high in virgin olive oil (VOO) and nuts are more effective in reducing heart disease event likelihood than drug treatments.

Mediterranean-style eating generally means plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, limited amounts of red meat and processed foods, and a relatively high amount of fat from olive oil and nuts. Studies have shown that people living in the Mediterranean region have lower rates of heart disease, despite their high fat intake.

Experts believe the benefit stems from the fact that the unsaturated fats found in olive oil and nuts actually help protect the cardiovascular system.

Typically, men and women who get most of their fat from nuts and olive oil also have a decline in a blood substance called C-reactive protein, a marker of chronic inflammation in the body.

The team of Spanish researchers published initial findings in the trial that is due to complete next year in Atherosclerosis, reporting significant improvements in groups eating traditional Mediterranean diets plus VOO or nuts, compared to those on a low-fat diet.

Previous research demonstrated that adults who consumed 25 milliliters (mL) or nearly 2 tablespoons of VOO or nuts for one week showed less oxidation of LDL cholesterol and higher levels of antioxidant compounds, particularly phenols, in the blood.

Among the over-55s artery thickness was lower in the VOO and nut groups but only among those who already had somewhat thickened arteries.

One of the researchers, Dr Miguel Angel Martínez-González, from the Department of Preventative Medicine at the University of Navarra, said the findings emphasised the value of dietary versus pharma interventions in controlling cardiovascular event likelihood.

They showed that, "a modification in the entire diet pattern managed to achieve, in just one year, results that pharmaceutical drugs did not – even after two years of treatment."

However, "This improvement was not observed amongst those who did not have thickening of the artery wall at the start of the study."

The study places each volunteer in one of three groups following a Mediterranean diet with the VOO group receiving 15 litres of virgin olive oil per three months, a nut group given 30g a day of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, and a third group given instructions and material to follow a low-fat diet.

"We thus observed who had suffered the greatest thickening of this layer — due to arteriosclerosis — a significant improvement and regression of lesions having taken place in those cases that had followed a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil or nuts," said Dr Ana Sánchez-Tainta, also from the University of Navarra.

The results showed the nut and VOO groups after three months had improved adolipoprotein ratios that delivered lower heart disease risk for both men and women.

For men, the number at high-risk dropped 5%, while 16.6% of women fell from high-medium status to low cardiometabolic risk.

"Data from this study provide further evidence to recommend a TMD rich in virgin olive oil as a useful tool for controlling CHD risk, particularly in individuals at high risk for developing CHD," they concluded.

The Mediterranean diet – low in red meat and dairy food but high in fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and olive oil, is also considered to contain the best selection of foods to help prevent cancer.  It is certainly the diet recommended by nutritionists for those of us who have had breast cancer.


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