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July 27th, 2007

Eating a traditional Mediterranean diet — more vegetables, fruits, and fish, and fewer animal products — does seem to ward off heart disease, an Australian study shows, and it may be especially beneficial for people with diabetes.

Mediterranean-born immigrants in Australia have lower death rates from heart disease than native-born Australians, note Dr. Linton R. Harriss, from Monash University in Melbourne, and colleagues. This prompted them to investigate dietary patterns in relation to heart-related mortality “in an ethnically diverse population.”

The study involved over 40,000 men and women, aged between 40 and 69 years, 24 percent of whom were native-born Mediterranean while the rest were native-born Australian. They were followed for ten years.

The researchers used food questionnaires to calculate participants’ intake of Mediterranean foods, vegetables, fruits, and meats. The results of the study are published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Those people in our study that were in the highest category of the Mediterranean foods pattern (i.e. most frequently consumed traditional Mediterranean foods) had a 30 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who were in the lowest category,” Harriss told Reuters Health.

The investigators found that a Mediterranean-style diet “may be most beneficial for persons with diabetes.”

Among the study participants with diabetes, Harriss said, “Our results suggest that the Mediterranean diet may lower mortality from ischemic heart disease.” However, because those results are based on a small sub-sample, “more research needs to be performed to investigate these findings better.”

The protective effect of a Mediterranean diet pattern against heart-related death was strongest in people who were free of heart disease at the outset. Nonetheless, “the Mediterranean foods pattern showed benefits whether we included or excluded people with a history of cardiovascular disease,” Harriss said.

SOURCE: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2007

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