Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil and nuts could slash your risk of developing heart disease by 30 percent, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Spanish researchers followed 7,400 55- to 80-year-old men and women who were at risk for heart disease. The subjects were assigned to either a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil; a Mediterranean diet supplemented with walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds; or a diet heavy on items like pasta and dairy. The results: After 7 years, people on the Mediterranean diets were 30 percent less likely to develop any cardiovascular problems compared to the other group.
Additionally, people who ate extra olive oil were 33 percent less likely to suffer a stroke, while those who loaded up on nuts had a 46 percent lower risk of stroke.
While other studies have looked at the Mediterranean diet’s effect on people who already have heart disease, this is the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s preventative effect against heart disease. The researchers aren’t certain why the link exists, but say it’s possible that the diet’s nutrient-rich foods help your body protect itself against unsafe blood lipids, insulin sensitivity, and inflammation—all markers of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
If you want to go Mediterranean, here’s one way to supercharge the benefits of the diet: Use fresh olive oil. A European study found that olive oil’s antioxidants can raise levels of artery-cleaning HDL cholesterol. And the fresher the oil, the more potent its antioxidants. Spanish researchers advise to seek out new-crop olive oil and use it within a year. Choose a dark glass bottle and store it way from the stove, since light and heat can degrade quality.
Additional reporting by Maria Masters
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