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Butter is NOT Back – Unsaturated Fats Best for Lower Mortality

In the one of the most powerful studies to date regarding dietary fats and health, Harvard researchers analyzed the eating patterns of 126,00 adults for up to 32 years. They found that eating more unsaturated fat (the type of fat in olive oil, nuts, and seeds) was linked with lower mortality, but that eating more saturated and trans fats (the types of fats in butter, red meat, and highly processed snack foods) was linked with higher mortality. In fact, replacing just 5% of calories from saturated fat with the same amount of polyunsaturated fat (like salmon, flax seeds, and walnuts) or monounsaturated fat (like olive oil and avocados) was associated with a 27% and 13% lower risk of death from all causes, respectively.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2016 Jul 5. (Wang DD et al.) [Epub ahead of print.]

Mediterranean Diet May Prevent Breast Cancer Relapse

In a study of 307 Italian women with early breast cancer, who had undergone treatment and were in complete remission, researchers assigned 199 of the women to their normal diet, but with healthy advice from a dietitian, while the other 108 women were assigned to a Mediterranean diet (with lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, and up to one glass of wine per day). After 3 years, breast cancer returned to 11 patients from the standard diet group, but none in the Mediterranean diet group relapsed. This indicates a statistically significant reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence for those following a Mediterranean diet.  
Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting. 2016 June 3-7;34(15):Suppl:e13039. (Biasini C et al).

Cook Vegetables in Olive Oil for High Antioxidant Content

Cooking vegetables in olive oil is a hallmark of the much-praised Mediterranean diet. To see how different cooking methods affect the antioxidant capacity of vegetables, Mexican researchers compared the antioxidant capacity in potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and pumpkin that were raw, deep fried in olive oil, sautéed in olive oil, or boiled. They found that the veggies deep fried in olive oil had the greatest total phenols, followed by the sautéed veggies, then the boiled veggies. The researchers suggest that “deep frying and sautéing conserve and enrich the phenolic composition.” That said, there is no “bad” way to eat vegetables. Rather, this research shows that if it takes a bit of olive oil to make vegetables most delicious to you, all the better.
Food Chemistry. 2015 Dec 1;188-430-8. (Ramirez-Anaya Jdel P et al).

Replace Butter with Fish, Nuts, Seeds, and Lower Risk of Heart Disease by 25%

Harvard researchers followed over 120,000 adults for 24-30 years, tracking their diet and health records. The scientists found that replacing 5% of daily calories from saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, seeds, and safflower oil), monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil and canola oil), or whole grains is linked with a 25%, 15%, and 9% lower risk of heart disease, respectively. Additionally, they found that replacing 5% of daily calories from refined grains and added sugars with whole grains or polyunsaturated fats can also significantly reduce heart disease risk, and that replacing saturated fat with refined grains or added sugars does not lower heart disease risk. The researchers concluded, “Our findings provide epidemiological evidence of the current dietary guidelines, which recommend both “replacing saturated fatty acids with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids” and “replacing refined grains with whole grains.”” The Mediterranean diet, which spotlights whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds, is the perfect eating plan to put these lessons into practice.
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2015 Oct;66(14):1538-48. (Li Y et al.)

Plant Based Diets with Olive Oil Cost Less than USDA MyPlate Diet

Traditional plant-centered diets (such as the Mediterranean diet) are based on affordable local specialties and garden vegetables. To see if traditional ways of getting healthy meals on the table stand up to modern food economics, researchers calculated the cost of a 7-day meal plan for an economical version of the USDA MyPlate guidelines, and compared it to that of a plant-based diet with olive oil. They found that choosing a plant-based diet, instead of the budget MyPlate diet, could save $746.46 per person per year, and provide vastly more servings of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2015 Sept 23. [Epub ahead of print] (MM Flynna et al.)

Med Diet Plus Exercise May Prevent Eye Disease

Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults, mostly occurring in those over 60 years old. To see if eating patterns play a role in this disease, researchers analyzed the diet of nearly 900 Portuguese adults (ages 55+), half with AMD, and half without. Those without AMD ate foods more closely aligned with the Mediterranean diet (grains, green leafy vegetables, fruit, and olive oil) than those who did have AMD. The group without AMD also exercised more, and ate less fast food, meat, dairy, and ready-made meals. This study suggests that a Mediterranean style diet, along with exercise, may be protective against AMD.
Presentation at the European Society of Retina Specialists 15th EURETINA Congress. Nice, France. September 17, 2015. (Farina C et al.)

Mediterranean Diet May Lower Breast Cancer Risk by Over Half

With incidence of breast cancer increasing in recent years, lifestyle and prevention measures are more important than ever. Using data from the PREDIMED study (where adults at risk for heart disease were assigned to either a low fat diet, a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, or a Mediterranean diet with nuts), scientists analyzed the eating patterns and health outcomes of over 4,200 women (ages 60-80). During the 5-year follow up period, 35 women developed breast cancer.  Those in the Mediterranean diet groups were 51% less likely to get breast cancer than those on a low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet with olive oil group was 62% less likely to get breast cancer, while the Mediterranean diet group with nuts had a non-significant lower risk of breast cancer.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 Sep 14:1-9. [Epub ahead of print.] (Toledo E et al.)

Med Diet with Olive Oil May Prevent Diabetic Eye Damage

Complications from diabetes can lead to serious health problems, including vision impairment, blindness, and kidney damage. Using data from the PREDIMED study (where adults at risk for heart disease were assigned to either a low fat diet, a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, or a Mediterranean diet with nuts), researchers analyzed data from over 3,600 Spanish adults with type 2 diabetes, to see how diet affects the risk of diabetic nephropathy (kidney damage from diabetes) or diabetic retinopathy (eye damage from diabetes). Those following a Mediterranean diet with olive oil had a 43% lower risk of diabetic retinopathy compared to the low fat control group, and those following a Mediterranean diet with nuts had a non-significant 38% lower risk of diabetic retinopathy. There were no significant changes in the risk for diabetic nephropathy.
Diabetes Care. 2015 Sept 13. [Epub ahead of print] (Diaz-Lopez A et al.)

Switching to Mediterranean Fat Sources May Help Inflammation

Palmitic acid (found in palm oil, shortening, butter, and red meat) is a type of saturated fat prevalent in the Western diet, while oleic acid (found in olive oil) is a type of monounsaturated fat prevalent in the Mediterranean diet. In a small study, researchers at the University of Vermont fed 16 adults either a diet high in palmitic acid or a diet high in oleic acid and low in palmitic acid to see how food choices affect the inflammatory response of various cells. All adults spent 3 weeks in each diet group, serving as their own control.  Although insulin sensitivity was not affected in this experiment, the scientists found that changing the diet to include more oleic acid and less palmitic acid was able to lower activation of certain cell signaling proteins (including TLR4 and NLRP3) that are associated with inflammation, oxidation and poor insulin signaling. These results suggest that shifting from a Western diet to a Mediterranean style diet (with greater proportions of oleic acid) may help fight inflammation.
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2015 Aug 1. pii: S0955-2863(15)00178-3. (Kien CL et al.)

Mediterranean Meals with Olive Oil Can Improve Blood Sugar Control, Cholesterol

In a small Italian study, researchers assigned 25 healthy adults to a Mediterranean meal (pasta, chicken breast, salad, bread, and an apple) prepared either with or without olive oil, then measured their cholesterol and blood sugar. After 30 days, the participants switched groups and ate the other meal, serving as their own control. The scientists found that 2 hours after eating, the meal without olive oil was associated with higher glucose and insulin levels, as well as higher “bad cholesterol” (LDL-C). In the second part of the experiment, the participants were assigned to a Mediterranean meal prepared with either olive oil or corn oil, switching groups after a 30 day washout period. Their blood sugar and cholesterol was tested after the meals as well. Two hours after eating, the meals with olive oil were associated with a lower increase in blood sugar and improved markers of blood sugar control (such as lower DPP, and higher GLP1 & GIP), as well as a smaller increase in “bad cholesterol” (LDL-C and oxidized LDL). These experiments indicate that meals with olive oil can help regulate blood sugar, and may help improve cholesterol.
Nutrition & Diabetes. 2015 July 20;5:e172. [Epub ahead of print.] (Violi F et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Can Improve Cognitive Function

The Mediterranean diet has long been studied for its role in heart health and aging, but emerging research suggests that it may also be protective for brain health. In a follow up to the PREDIMED study (where Spanish adults at risk for heart disease were randomly assigned to either a Mediterranean diet with four tablespoons of olive oil daily, a Mediterranean diet with one ounce of nuts daily, or a low fat controlled diet) researchers analyzed the relationship between diet and cognitive function. Of the 334 participants in this study with data on cognitive function, the scientists found that overall brain function significantly improved for both Mediterranean groups over the 4-year experiment, compared with the control group. Specifically, the nuts group significantly improved on tests of memory, while the olive oil group significantly improved on tests of reasoning, planning, and problem solving. This adds to the growing body of research that the Mediterranean diet is an important factor in healthy aging.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 May 11. [Epub ahead of print] (Valls-Pedret C et al.) 

Traditional Sardinian Diet Linked with Longevity

Sardinia, Italy has gained international recognition as one of the world’s longevity Blue Zones, as it has a large concentration of people who live exceptionally long lives. To determine how the traditional Sardinian diet might play a role in longevity, European researchers analyzed the traditional eating habits of Sardinia based on works published over a century. Researchers characterize the traditional Sardinian diet as “remarkably frugal.” Foods native to the Sardinian diet include grains (wheat and barley), potatoes, pulses, sheep milk and goat milk and their fresh cheeses, wild fruits, and fresh vegetables, with fermented whole grain breads and minestrone soup making up a substantial portion of the diet prior to the 1950’s. After the mid-1950’s, Sardinians were able to eat more meat and pasta, along with more fresh vegetables, olive oil, and fish, but with fewer potatoes, pulses, and less lard. The researchers conclude that this unique combination of diets may attribute to the exceptionally long lifespan of Sardinians born at the end of the 19th century, and are eager to monitor the lifespan of future generations of Sardinians.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015 Apr;69(4):411-8. (Pes GM et al.)