The Mediterranean diet is not new. For years now we’ve been dreaming about getting thin and skirting heart disease while indulging on red wine, fresh fish, al dente pasta in homemade marinara and crusty bread doused in fragrant olive oil… right? (There is some sarcasm here. If it’s lost on you, don’t fret. Read this and read on!)
Well, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has brought renewed support for that dream, to an extent. In a randomized controlled trial (holding far more clout than typical observational diet studies) of Spaniards at risk for heart disease, two groups followed a Mediterranean diet and were given supplemental olive oil or nuts respectively, while a third (control) group was simply told to eat a low fat diet and given non-food gifts (so they wouldn’t feel left out). The incidence of heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular causes was so much lower in the Mediterranean diet groups that they actually stopped the trial after 5 years.
It’s worth noting that this study only compares the Mediterranean diet to a low-fat, high-carb (breads, pastas, etc.) diet, which is often blamed for our country’s epidemic of obesity and heart disease. For more on that view, read this piece from the Huffington Post.
What study authors concluded, most notably, was the significant benefit to providing participants with copious amounts of olive oil (1 liter per week) and nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts) for unrestricted consumption.
Taking from this what we can – healthy plant-based fats are good for you – here is a list of five things to eat for lower cardiac risk:
1) Hummus – A Mediterranean classic! Traditionally made with plenty of olive oil, garbanzo beans, tahini (sesame seed paste) and lemon juice. Making your own is easy with a food processor. If you buy it, be sure to read the ingredients. Many commercial varieties will cut corners by using vegetable oils in place of olive oil, which is not nearly as healthy. Use as a condiment or dip with vegetables.
2) Walnut pesto – This variation on a classic incorporates more omega-3 fats than the original, combined with plenty of olive oil and fresh greens. No basil? Try using cilantro, parsley or arugula! Skip the pasta and use it as an antipasto dressing with fava beans, or serve over grilled fish.
3) Almond butter – I never leave home without it. Seriously… I’ve either eaten some at breakfast or have some prepared as part of a snack for later. Try it in smoothies, on oatmeal or with an apple as a healthy, filling snack.
4) Simple salad dressing: GOOD olive oil + lemon juice – Commercial dressings are often riddled with preservatives, thickeners and sugar. Moreover, they too cut costs by replacing some olive oil with highly refined vegetable oils. Keep dressing simple and healthy with your best cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
5) Avocado – These fatty fruits are getting more press all the time as a food skinny people eat. They’re packed with the same mono-unsaturated fats found in olive oil and they also sneak in 13g of fiber per fruit. Slice them, cube them, puree them… put them on everything!