5 takeaways from the newly published Mediterranean Diet study
Recently a study about the heart benefits of the Mediterranean Diet - (Funded by the Spanish government's Instituto de Salud Carlos III and others - was published at the February 25th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. What do we learn from the study? Here are 5 takeaways from the newly published study regarding the Mediterranean diet, discussed by James Barnard, PhD, UCLA Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology.
1. The study affirmed the benefits of healthy eating even for people already taking medications for high cholesterol, blood pressure, or diabetes. The takeaway: Drugs are beneficial, but drugs combined with a healthy diet are even more beneficial.
2. The study was large – following 7,447 people who were randomly assigned to either Mediterranean-style diets or a low-fat diet – and seemingly well designed. But a major problem with the study was that the low-fat diet was not low in fat. The people in the "low-fat" group started out with a diet that was 39% fat. They decreased fat intake to 37%.
Therefore, the authors weren't really comparing a Mediterranean diet to a low-fat diet. It's much more accurate to say they were comparing a Mediterranean diet to a typical American-style diet. That’s because a lot of the foods the so-called "low-fat" group was eating were heart-damaging foods like red meat, commercially baked goods full of refined flour and fat, sugary sodas, and low-fat cheeses. (Though called "low-fat," these cheeses typically get 35 to 60% of their calories from fat.)
3. Some argued that the people in the "low-fat" group were unsuccessful in reducing their fat intake because a low-fat diet is too difficult to maintain, but it could also be argued that the scientists conducting this study never really gave the "low-fat" diet group much of a chance.
During the first half of the study, the people assigned to the Mediterranean diet received intensive education in eating well, including regular visits with registered dietitians. The people in the "low-fat" group got just one visit. That's it. It was the equivalent of a doctor's visit in which the doctor hands you a pamphlet with what to eat, and what not to eat, and essentially says, "Good luck."
Moreover, the "low-fat" diet that the scientists designed excluded an important food proven to protect against heart disease, a food that is a part of many low-fat plans, including the Pritikin Program – omega 3-rich fatty fish. The subjects in the study were discouraged from eating fatty fish like salmon.