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Mediterranean diet reduces risk of cardiovascular diseases

23 February 2015

Borges - Mediterranean diet helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases

After monitoring three study groups for an average of five years, PREDIMED (Prevention and Mediterranean Diet)—the largest study ever carried out on the Mediterranean diet—has found that the Mediterranean diet, supplemented with nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts and extra-virgin olive oil, cuts the risk of serious cardiovascular diseases by 30%.

What are cardiovascular diseases?

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death worldwide and affect both men and women.

Cardiovascular diseases are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and include:

* Coronary heart disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle.
* Cerebrovascular disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain.
* Peripheral arterial disease – disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs.
* Rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever.
* Congenital heart disease – malformations of heart structure existing at birth.
* Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots (thrombi) in the leg veins, which can dislodge (emboli) and move to the heart and lungs.
* And heart attacks and strokes – acute events that are mainly caused by a blockage that prevents blood from flowing to the heart or brain.

How can we combat cardiovascular diseases?

Most CVDs can be prevented by combating habits and risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity, obesity and hypertension.

The findings of the PREDIMED study show that a Mediterranean diet (with extra-virgin olive oil and nuts) cuts the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 30%.

The study monitored 7,500 people aged over 55. All the participants had a high risk of suffering a cardiovascular disease but had never had any kind of previous cardiovascular event. The participants were randomly assigned one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil (1 litre per week), a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts (30 g of walnuts and almonds per day), and a low-fat diet. The participants also received educational sessions on their diet and, depending on the group, were also given free supplies of extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts (almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts).

During the average five-year period of monitoring, 288 participants suffered a serious cardiovascular event. There were 96 cases in the group following a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil, 83 cases in the group following a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, and 109 cases in the group following a low-fat diet. The risk of a cardiovascular disease was cut by 30% for the participants who had consumed supplementary nuts and by 28% for those who had consumed supplementary olive oil.

These findings were published in 2013 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

The Mediterranean diet is on Unesco’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

The Mediterranean diet is one of our most precious assets. In 2010 Unesco included it on its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in recognition of its value for health worldwide.

The Mediterranean diet is characterised by a high consumption of olive oil, vegetables, cereals, fruit and nuts, a healthy amount of fish and poultry and small quantities of wine. It tends towards a low consumption of milk products, red meat, processed meat and sweet foods.

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet can help explain why Mediterranean countries have a lower death rate from cardiovascular diseases compared with other countries in Northern Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States.

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