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Go Nuts for Good Health

December 26, 2008

Looking for a tastier way to be healthier? A new study suggests eating a traditional Mediterranean diet of cereals, vegetables, fruits and olive oil plus a daily serving of mixed nuts could be the key to better health.

The study was designed for those looking to manage metabolic abnormalities, such as abdominal obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels. All of those conditions are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

A traditional Mediterranean diet, which is characterized by a high intake of cereals, vegetables, fruits and olive oil, a moderate intake of fish and alcohol and a low intake of dairy, meats and sweets, has been associated with a lower risk for metabolic abnormalities.

For the study, Spanish researchers assigned 1,224 participants between the ages of 55 and 80 and at high risk for cardiovascular disease into one of three groups: one group received advice on a low-fat diet while two others received quarterly education about the Mediterranean diet. One of the Mediterranean diet groups was provided with one liter per week of virgin olive oil and the other group received 30 grams a day of mixed nuts.

When the study began, 61 percent met criteria for the metabolic syndrome. After one year, 409 people in the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil group, 411 in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts group and 404 in the control group of low-fat diet advice were evaluated.

The prevalence of metabolic syndrome decreased by nearly 14 percent in the nut group, nearly 7 percent in the olive oil group and 2 percent in the control group, researchers said.

The participants’ weight did not change over the one-year period, but the number of individuals with large waist circumferences, high triglycerides or high blood pressure decreased significantly in the nut group compared with the control group.

“Traditionally, dietary patterns recommended for health have been low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets, which generally are not palatable,” the authors wrote. “The results of the present study show that a non-energy-restricted traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with nuts, which is high in fat, high in unsaturated fat and palatable, is a useful tool in managing the metabolic syndrome.”

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