Mediterranean Diet :: Mediterranean diet is best to prevent heart disease

Australia’s largest study of eating habits has found that traditional Mediterranean foods may prevent cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. A 10 year study into the dietary patterns of about 40,000 Melburnians has just been published in the latest American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Monash University PhD student Linton Harriss said members of the study who frequently ate traditional Mediterranean foods had a 30 per cent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who ate the least amount of Mediterranean products.

“The Mediterranean diet is characterised by higher intakes of plant foods and fish, moderate intake of wine and lower intake of animal products,” Mr Harriss said.

“Foods frequently in the diet included garlic, cucumber, olive oil, salad greens, capsicum, legumes, tomato, feta and ricotta cheeses, olives, onion, watermelon, steamed fish and boiled chicken.

“The Mediterranean diet is a rich source of antioxidants, monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids and fibre, and relatively low in saturated fats. This combination is believed to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antithrombotic properties that may help reduce cardiovascular disease.”

Antioxidants help reduce oxidative damage to our bodies caused by free radicals. Monounsaturated fats help to lower cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to stabilize the rhythm of the heart and prevent heart attacks. Fibre can assist in lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors. Saturated fats tend to raise cholesterol and are found mostly in meat, full-fat dairy products and some plant foods such as coconut oil.

Co-authors of the study include researchers from The Cancer Council Victoria, The University of Melbourne, University of Cambridge and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

The study targeted men and women aged 40 to 69 years who had volunteered to take part in the study, also known as Health 2020, run by The Cancer Council Victoria. About a quarter of the participants were migrants to Australia from Italy and Greece.

Dietary information was collected at the start of the study between 1990 and 1994 using a food frequency questionnaire. Four main dietary patterns were identified representing the frequent intake of Mediterranean foods, vegetables, meat and fresh fruit.

Participants were then followed up regularly to determine who developed cardiovascular disease. The vegetable and fresh fruit dietary patterns were shown to be less cardioprotective than the Mediterranean food pattern.

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