Adding more olive oil and nuts to a balanced Mediterranean diet will reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes and heart attacks by 30 per cent a new Spanish study says.
The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are widely known, but now new evidence shows olive oil and three specific nuts are much better for you than previously thought.
The study involved more than 7,000 high-risk volunteers over a five year period, all of whom were diabetic or had a host of risk factors including obesity, high cholesterol, family history of heart disease or smoking.
The volunteers were placed in three groups, one group was told to eat a low fat diet, while the other two were told to eat a Mediterranean diet and were given a free five year supply of olive oil, with the third group given a five year supply of three different nuts.
They found that those patients placed on a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil and nuts were much better off than those who were told to watch their fat intake. Those just on a high olive oil diet were not as well off as those who combined it with about 30 grams of nuts a day.
Head of Department in Dietetics and Human Nutrition at LaTrobe University, Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos believes the findings are relative to the hidden powers of olive oil and nuts.
“The types of fat in olive oil are healthier types of fat that are not linked to heart disease like animal fat is and it’s also a fat that is more stable,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
“Some types of fats like seed oils, when you cook with them, they do change, they become unhealthier as you fry with them or cook with them, where as olive oil is more stable.”
Extra virgin olive oil is also very healthy thanks to the high amount of antioxidants in it.
“We believe the antioxidants prevent damage to the arteries even in people that have disease, antioxidants prevent the damage that the disease can cause, like diabetes,” she says.
“You’re offering your body some protection to that disease”.
In the study, three nuts were given to the volunteers, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The boost in preventative measures from nuts could be traced back to the nuts’ own antioxidant properties.
“Nuts equally have got a polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found particularly in the skin,” Dr Itsiopoulos says.
“We Greeks eat the almond with the skin. That’s where a lot of these polyphenols are concentrated and they are protective like the olive oils’ antioxidants and the oil in these groups of nuts are very good, walnuts have a plant version of omega 3 fats, so it’s a precursor to fish oils.”
Cooking methods of the Mediterranean diet have also contributed to making it a much healthier diet than others. The slow cooking method under low heat brings out a more favourable cooking profile in the food.
The eating habits Greek migrants have also shown just how useful the Mediterranean diet can be in the long term. Studies have shown that, Greek migrants are living longer and are healthier than their Australians counterparts.
Australians convert to the diet have seen up to a 70 per cent reduction in a fatty liver and their risk for diabetes reduced considerably.
That’s why the Mediterranean remains the diet of choice for doctors to prescribe.
“We’re encouraging people to follow the basic principles, it doesn’t have to be to the letter to a traditional recipe from the Mediterranean diet, but the basic principles which is: olive oil as your main fat, make sure you have half a kilo of fruit and vegetables everyday, legumes and limit processed foods, limit processed meats in particular and when you are having meat make your they’re lean and include fish in your diet,” says Dr Itsiopoulos.