Mediterranean-Style Diet Cuts Heart Risks
Last week the results of a five year study involving 7,500 people in Spain were published by the New England Journal of Medicine. The study concluded that those who ate a Mediterranean-style diet had a 30% lower risk of major cardiovascular problems compared to those who were told to follow a low-fat diet. Nutrition people, including myself, are jumping for joy as once again the low-fat diet is shown to be untrue.
Mediterranean-style diet was defined as lots of fish, chicken, beans, tomato sauce, vegetables, salads, wine, and fruit with minimal consumption of baked goods and pastries. Doctors completed lab studies to verify that the Mediterranean-style diet people were consuming more olive oil or nuts, which was one of the areas of focus.
Obviously, I don’t disagree with these findings, but I think we need to take a second and discuss olive oil as it should be used in the Mediterranean-style diet of Americans.
Mediterranean-style diet and olive oil
The type of oil used in the study mostly likely mattered. The Mediterranean-style diet people used extra-virgin olive oil, which is minimally processed and richer in nutrients than regular or light olive oil. The minimal processing also decreases the potential damage from chemicals. Again, the less refined, the more nutrient dense. In America we have to read the labels to identify the type of oil. Make sure you are purchasing the right one. I also recommend that this is an area to spend a little more and purchase an organic brand. Toxins are stored in fat so we don’t want to have toxins in the fat added to our body.
Olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats which other studies have shown to lower LDL cholesterol while supporting healthy cell membranes. This study tracked a composite of heart attacks, strokes, or heart-related deaths. In the Mediterranean-style extra virgin olive oil group 96 occurred. In the Mediterranean-style nut group 83 occurred. In the low-fat group 109 occurred.
Mediterranean-style diet – how much olive oil to use
The study participants ingested either four tablespoons or extra virgin olive oil per day or a combination of walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds with the measurement of “a fistful”. So, I’d guess between 1/4-1/2 cup of nuts per day. My recommendation would be to break those in to two snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
Mediterranean-style diet – how best to use olive oil
One of the areas of confusion is always how to use olive oil. Many televised cooking shows use olive oil for cooking foods, which can overheat the oil causing a loss of available nutrients, the formation of free radicals, and the formation of aromatic substances that increase the risk of chronic health problems. Olive oil should never be heated to smoking. But the exact heat point for possible health problems is difficult to identify. Therefore, I suggest that it’s better to cook with broth or a more stable oil and add the olive oil to the foods after cooking. Plus, the fat soluble vitamins need the unadulterated olive oil to help with absorption. So, boil some Swiss chard or spinach, drain the excess water, then top with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. You will receive all the health benefits and the best flavor.