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Olive Oil, Almonds or Walnuts? All of the Above!

Scientists in Barcelona and São Paulo conducted a crossover study to compare the effects of virgin olive oil, almonds, and walnuts in lowering cholesterol in subjects with high cholesterol levels. Subjects ate a healthy “run in” diet for four weeks first, to put all participants at a similar starting place. Then, each person spent 4 weeks on each of three diets: one enriched with virgin olive oil (VOO), one enriched with walnuts, and one with almonds. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol was reduced on average 7.3%, 10.8% and 13.4% after the VOO, walnut, and almond diets, respectively, with total cholesterol and LDL/HDL ratio improving similarly. Researchers concluded that all three of these healthy foods contribute to the heart-health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet.

Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, March 19, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

Med Diet Reduces Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

To assess the Mediterranean Diet’s effect on metabolic syndrome, scientists in Greece and Italy conducted a meta-analysis of 50 peer-reviewed Med Diet studies (including 35 clinical trials) involving more than half a million people. Metabolic Syndrome is considered to be present if someone has three or more of the following: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, large waist circumference, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides. The researchers found that the Med Diet improved all five risk factors, and overall reduced the risk of Metabolic Syndrome. They concluded that “this dietary pattern can be easily adopted by all population groups and various cultures, and cost-effectively serve for primary and secondary prevention of Metabolic Syndrome and its individual components.”

Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 15 March 2011; 57:1299-1313.

High-Phenolic Olive Oil Protects Arteries Best

Oxidized LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol”) has been shown to increase the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Oxidized LDL antibodies (OLAB) have been shown, in studies, to protect against atherosclerosis. Scientists in five European countries working as part of the EUROLIVE Study Group designed a crossover study to see whether higher polyphenol levels in different olive olis would generate more OLABs. 200 healthy men were randomly assigned to consume, in three week stints, 25mL a day (just under two tablespoons) of each of three olive oils with high, medium, and low phenolic content. The researchers found that the protective OLABs increased in direct relationship to the phenolic content of the olive oils.

Clinical Nutrition, March 3, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

MUFAs are Protective Against Heart Disease and Metabolic Syndrome

Our understanding of the role of fats in our diet is shifting from a focus on the total quantity of fat to one emphasizing the quality of fats. Scientists at the University of Manitoba carried out a thorough review of research detailing the association of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) with cardiovascular disease and with metabolic syndrome. They concluded that MUFAs are cardioprotective and reduce the risk of obesity, particularly when they are substituted for saturated fats.
Lipids, February 10, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

Omega-3s in Med Diet Protect Brain Health

Consistent research shows that the Med Diet helps us keep our wits about us as we age. But what explains this connection? A new French study of 1050 elderly subjects showed a strong correlation between adherence to the Med Diet and higher blood levels of healthy fats. In conclusion, the scientists credited the better cognitive function of those eating the Med way to higher levels of DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) and lower ratios of omega-6s to omega-3s.
British Journal of Nutrition, February 2011. 8:1-10 [Epub ahead of print]

Brain MRIs show Less Disease with Med Diet

Scientists at the Taub Institute for Research in Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain (at U.C. Davis) collected high-resolution MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) data on the brains of 707 elderly New Yorkers. They then studied dietary assessments of these people from the past 5.8 years (on average), and divided the participants into three groups according to Mediterranean Diet adherence. They found that participants in the top-adherence group had 36% less evidence of cerebrovascular disease, and those in the middle group had 22% reduced odds, and concluded that “higher adherence to the Mediteranean Diet is associated with reduced cerbrovascular disease burden.”

Annals of Neurology, February 2011; 69(2): 257-68

Med Diet May Lessen Harm from Smoking

Researchers in Greece and the Netherlands collaborated to test whether adherence to the Med Diet could mitigate any of the dangers of smoking – include the harm from second-hand smoke. Based on a review of both epidemiological and lab studies showing the Mediterranean Diets protective effect against biochemical and molecular processes that lead to cancer, the scientists concluded that that the Med Diet might lessen the ravages caused by smoking. This could be especially useful to those who are the potential victims of passive smoking. 

Public Health, January 27, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

Mediterranean Diet for Pregnant Moms Reduces Babies’ Wheezing

At the University of Edinburgh, researchers did a systematic review of 62 studies to determine how the diet of pregnant women may affect asthma and allergies in their babies.  The strongest connection found was between the Mediterranean Diet and asthma: babies whose mothers followed the Med Diet had a nearly 80% lower risk of wheezing. Vitamins A, D and E were also associated with reduced risk of asthma.

Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Dec. 23, 2010 [Epub ahead of print]

Med Diet Slows Brain Aging

Cognitive decline is not inevitable as we age, and in fact a new study shows that eating a Mediterranean Diet can make your mental age years younger. Researchers in Chicago studied the dietary habits of 4,000 Midwesterners aged 65 and older, and scored them for adherence to either the Med Diet or the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. They then tested the people every three years for skills including word memory and math. Those who scored highest on the MedDiet scale – by enjoying fish, legumes, vegetables, wine, fruit and olive oil regularly – had slower cognitive decline over time, while those scoring higher on the Dietary Guidelines scale showed no advantage in keeping their wits about them. (Related article).
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. December 22, 2010 [Epub ahead of print]

Med Diet Improves Longevity Markers, Insulin Sensitivity

Scientists at the University of Naples studied 192 overweight and obese men, putting half the men on a Med Diet (if overweight) or a Med Diet plus exercise and calorie restriction (if obese), while the other half followed a conventional diet. After two years, the Med Diet group had lost, on average 14 kg (31 lbs), while the control group had lost just 2 kg. Moreover, the Med Diet group showed “significant amelioration of multiple risk factors” including improved cardiovascular markers, reduced oxidative stress, and improved insulin sensitivity.
Cardiology Research & Practice
, Dec. 20, 2010; 2011:293916

Polish Scientists Advise Olive Oil in Baby Food

Scientists in Poland who are familiar with the health benefits of the olive-oil-based Mediterranean Diet reviewed 124 kinds of baby food from six suppliers. They found that corn, canola, and soybean oils were most common in jarred baby foods, and that only one brand of ready-to-eat jars with vegetables featured olive oils. The scientists concluded that medical professionals should urge manufacturers to produce baby foods with olive oil, and that parents should, in the meantime, make their own olive-oil baby foods at home.

Medical Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. December 2010; 3(3):227-232.

Med Diet, Weight Gain and Aging

Some of us may notice a few extra pounds appear on the scale as we get older. Is this just the reality of getting older? A new study, which followed 10,376 Spanish men and women for about 6 years, has found that following the Mediterranean Diet eating pattern may slow down the weight gain normally observed with age. In fact, people with the lowest Med Diet score gained the most weight each year. (Related article). 

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. December 2010; 92(6): 1484-93 [Epub Oct 20, 2010]

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