The People's Perspective on Medicine

Mediterranean Diet Saves Lives

People following a Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts were less likely to die from heart attacks or strokes during a five-year follow-up.

Olive oil and nuts may be the keys to a heart healthy diet. That’s the conclusion of a large, randomized controlled trial of the Mediterranean diet. Spanish researchers recruited roughly 7,500 volunteers at high risk for heart disease. They had either type 2 diabetes or at least three other risk factors including high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, smoking, obesity or a family history of early heart disease.

There were three groups. One group was told to reduce their intake of dietary fat and given advice on how to accomplish this goal. The other two groups were assigned to a Mediterranean diet. In one Mediterranean diet group, volunteers were given extra-virgin olive oil while volunteers in the other Mediterranean diet group were given mixed nuts including walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. They were followed for approximately five years.

Fewer Deaths from Heart Attacks and Strokes

The results were so impressive that the investigators stopped the study prematurely. That’s because both Mediterranean-type diets reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes or cardiovascular death by about 30 percent–an amount difficult to achieve with medication. The authors attribute this benefit largely to the olive oil and the nuts in the diets. Subjects consumed roughly 4 tablespoons of olive oil or a large handful of nuts every day.

The researchers concluded that

“the results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

[New England Journal of Medicine, online Feb. 25, 2013]

You can take the New York Times quiz to see how close you are to eating the diet used in the study.

To learn more about how to treat your heart and taste buds to a Mediterranean diet, you may wish to consult our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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it seems that many of us need your assistance to determine the differences and
effectiveness of the various types of olive oils. please give us a hand.

My mother was a first generation Sicilian. When we had cream of wheat for breakfast she added olive oil to the cooking process then a bit of salt. It was and is delicious. Now I do the same minus the salt…. Also, we use a generous amount of olive oil when making a salad. That way you can drink whatever is left in your salad bowl. By then it is mixed with vinegar and non salt seasoning. HMMMMM.

Walnuts, Almonds, Hazelnuts

What kind of nuts (handful) are best?
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: The study used walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds.

Should we be using organic olive oil and nuts?

I, like Liz am also concerned about the “types” of olive oil, what are the differences?

I thought in yesterday’s program with Gina Kolata that she mentioned a side bar would be available with a sample month’s menu. I don’t remember if that was here at the People’s Pharmacy website, or on the NY Times website, but I don’t find it in either. Can you please let us know where it is? Thanks so much! Rachel
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: I don’t think there is a month’s menu, but there is a quiz as a sidebar on her NYT piece that gives guidance about how to follow the study diet. Look for it in small print on the left.

I heard that so much of the olive oil we by in the USA is not good olive oil. Do you know anything about this?
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: There have been problems with olive oil fraud, especially in Europe. Lower qualities are being passed off as more expensive extra-virgin olive oil. California olive oil might be safer from a consumer perspective, but could be hard to find.

Is it known whether extra-virgin olive oil is more beneficial than regular olive oil?

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