Mediterranean Diet Lowers Stroke Risk

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

A new study has found specific diets, not just counting calories, can be just as effective when it comes to cutting the risk of stroke. The Mediterranean diet, specifically, was the object of this new research conducted by a Spanish team. Of the more than 7,000 participants in this study, those sticking to a Mediterranean diet had as much of a 46 percent lower chance of stroke. This 5-year study now challenges the belief that a low-fat diet is the best way to reduce the risk of stroke.

The Mediterranean diet isn´t shy with its fat. It´s composed of plenty of nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables with “moderate” amounts of fish and poultry. There´s almost no dairy in this diet, as well as little processed or red meats. Many of these meals are taken with wine, of course, and the Spanish researchers have found this combination, complete with good fats, is able to positively affect one´s health by lowering the risk of stroke.

The results have now been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

To conduct this research, 7,447 participants were asked to follow one of three diets: An olive oil-heavy Mediterranean-based diet, a nut-heavy Mediterranean diet, or a low-fat diet that included starches such as breads, potatoes and pasta. Each of these participants were aged between 55 and 80, and while each of these participants were at risk for contracting a cardiovascular disease, none of them had reported any heart conditions when the study began. Each of these participants was free to eat whatever they wanted from these diets and was not given any direction to exercise.

At the end of the five years of research, those who had eaten either style of the Mediterranean diet were found to have a lower risk of stroke than those who followed the typical, low-fat diet.

Specifically, those who took a diet with an emphasis on olive oil were 33 percent less likely to have a stroke, while those with a nut-heavy diet were 46 percent less likely to have a stroke. The researchers said this evidence has led them to believe there are clear advantages to a Mediterranean-based diet. The participants even enjoyed the nut and olive oil diets more than the low-fat diet. Those who were asked to stick to the Mediterranean diet were less likely to drop out of the study. The advantage of the Mediterranean diet was so strong over the other diet the researchers stopped the trials early. According to Walter Willet, the chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, one of the reasons a low-fat diet has less success is because it´s much harder for patients to adopt.

“One of the advantages of the Mediterranean diet is that most people find it is easy to stay with for the long run, because it offers great variety, satiety and enjoyment,” said Willet, speaking to USA Today.

The study focused on the benefits of so-called “healthy fats,” such as those found in nuts and olive oil. These fats, rich with omega-3 fatty acids, are said to protect the heart, thereby reducing the risk of stroke.

“Fat in the diet continues to be demonized, even though the evidence is clear that some types of fat improve blood cholesterol,” said Willet.

“This study adds further proof that diets high in healthy fats can be superior to a low-fat diet.”

Some opponents to the study claim those in the low-fat category were less likely to see an improvement because they weren´t instructed to watch their calories or begin an exercise regimen. According to some, the only diets that were dramatically altered were those who began eating in a Mediterranean style and therefore, these participants were the only ones to see any change.

The researchers maintain, however, switching to a Mediterranean diet is not only easier to do, but has also shown to have positive benefits on one´s health.

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