Ask The Doctor

Mediterranean Diet Study Shows Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

by Dr. Steven Garner, MD

Dear Dr. Garner,

I have been diagnosed with heart disease. I am 58 years old, and aside from being a little overweight, I’m in good condition.

Each time I would run in the park, I noticed that I would have a little chest pain after going about 100 yards. I decided to check it out with my doctor. He ordered a stress test which showed abnormalities in the arteries that were supplying the heart. I am going to lose weight, watch the amount of fat that I have in my diet and make sure to exercise.

Recently, I saw on TV a new study showing that there was marked improvement in heart disease for people who were following the Mediterranean diet.

Do you think this would be an appropriate diet for my situation? Are there any possible harmful effects?

Also, we really miss your “Ask the Doctor” show. Will it be back on the air soon?

Heart Problem in Hillcrest



Dear Heart Problem,

Thank you for your questions. The “Ask the Doctor” show will return on April 9 at 8 p.m. with all new shows. In addition to Cablevision and Time Warner, NET-TV is now part of the FIOS network as well. I thank you for your loyal viewership and support.

As for your question about the Mediterranean diet, there was a remarkable study published recently. The study, performed in Spain, looked at two groups on different diets. The first group ate the typical Mediterranean diet: extra virgin olive oil, fish, fruit and vegetables. The second group consumed a low-fat diet.

At the end of five years, the study was stopped due to the dramatic reduction in heart attacks, strokes and deaths in the Mediterranean diet group, and lack of improvement in the low-fat group. This is the first time that a specific diet has been shown to reduce deaths due to heart disease and stroke.

In the study, the group on the Mediterranean diet agreed to replace red meat with white meat, like chicken, and to eat three or more servings a week of fish. In addition, the diet consisted of three servings of fruit daily and two servings of vegetables daily. Extra virgin olive oil was an important component, and there was an average consumption of four tablespoons per day. It should be noted that regular olive oil does not have the same beneficial nutrients as extra virgin olive oil.

The participants on the low-fat diet ate three or more servings of fish or seafood a week and the same amount of fruit and vegetables as the Mediterranean group. They were asked to avoid soda and red meat, and were discouraged from consuming more than two tablespoons of vegetable oils, including olive oil, each day.

Marked Difference in Health

At the end of five years, it was apparent that there was a marked difference in the way the diets affected the health of the participants.

A 30 percent reduction of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease occurred in people who were placed on the Mediterranean diet. It is interesting that the diet itself did not help people lose weight but had dramatic effect on the heart.

The participants in the study were all at high risk, with conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity or diabetes. Many were taking statins, blood pressure and diabetes medications. The study’s results correlated well with the health of people in Mediterranean countries who follow a similar diet.

The study was impressive in that it showed that diet is powerful in reducing heart disease and death. Low-fat diets have never been shown in any large study to be helpful in reducing heart disease, strokes and death.

This study demonstrated that you can eat a balanced diet with fruit, vegetables and extra virgin olive oil, lower your heart disease risk by 30 percent and actually enjoy the diet. This is why most people stuck with the Mediterranean diet.

An important and enjoyable part that I left out is that the participants in the Mediterranean diet were encouraged to drink 4.4 ounces of wine (red or white), with dinner, seven days a week.

The benefits of the diet come from the combination of foods eaten, as opposed to a single ingredient. During the study, the members participated in quarterly education sessions.

The conclusion of the study was that a low-fat diet has little effect on reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Those on the Mediterranean diet, however, did significantly reduce their risk for heart disease, stroke and death.

It is still not clear how the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. We do know it is not as simple as adding nuts, extra virgin olive oil or any single component, but rather it is the combination of foods and wine that brings about the happy result.

As always, ask your doctor before starting any new diet.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.

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