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The Tale of the Good Fat

When it comes to dietary fats, not all things are created equal. Plant based fats, from sources like nuts and olive oil, can actually help prevent heart disease; as opposed to animal based fats, which have been linked to causing the same.

The diet most associated with these good fats is called the Mediterranean diet; made up of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish instead of red meat, olives and olive oil, legumes and nuts, whole grains, and red wine. A world wide study, recently released compared a traditional low fat diet to two different forms of the Mediterranean diets with staggering results. The study looked at 7,447 men and women, ages 55 to 80, who were at high risk of cardiovascular disease but had no symptoms. Risks included: Type 2 diabetes or at least three risk factors – smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight or obese, and having a family history of heart disease.

The participants were split up into 3 groups of about equal size. One group ate a standard low fat diet, one group ate a Mediterranean diet with an emphasis on olive oils, and the third group at the Mediterranean diet with an emphasis on nuts. The Mediterranean diet groups were asked to eat whole grains, at least three servings a day of fruits, two servings per day of vegetables and three servings per week each of fish and legumes. Those who drank could have a glass of wine per day. In addition, they were asked to limit red meat, butter, margarine, cream, soda and sweets. They consumed four tablespoons of olive oil per day or a half-ounce of walnuts and a quarter-ounce each of almonds and hazelnuts.

The results showed that the Mediterranean diet followers had less heart disease and strokes than the low fat diet group. Within the two Mediterranean groups there were differences in results, the group that emphasized olive oil over nuts were the least likely to have strokes or heart attacks. The results were so dramatic that the study was halted for “ethical” reasons; researchers wanted the low fat diet group to benefit from the findings.

This study did not have guidelines for total calorie consumption or exercise, additional studies that will include both of these are being planned. It is also important to note that simply adding olive oil or walnuts to your diet will not have the desired results. If reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke are your goal, you need to:

  • eliminate sodas
  • restrict red meat consumption
  • reduced the amount of carbohydrates you eat including white bread, cakes, cookies and desserts