Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Better Off Med: Eating Like the Spanish Is Good for You, Says Science



 from Bon Appetit Magazine
For the first time, science has proven what generations of nonnas have known: the Mediterranean diet really is better for you. The report, published this morning on the New England Journal of Medicine's website, found that a whopping 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease could be prevented in people at high risk if they stick to a Mediterranean diet. The health benefits of the diet, which is heavy in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, and (best of all) wine, were so clearly proven in the study that the researchers conducting it decided to stop five years early--not because they already had good results but because they thought it would be unethical to let the non-Med diet participants keep eating their way to an early grave.


The most interesting part of the study is that the Mediterranean dieters didn't end up eating less fat, or even losing weight, they just ended up with healthier hearts compared to their counterparts who were eating a diet high in red meat, processed food, and soda. The 7,447 participants were all Spanish, so eating only Mediterranean wasn't too much of a stretch, but with EVOO available at every Walmart in the land, there's hardly a county in America where eating Mediterranean would be harder than eating American.


And wouldn't you know it, we have a whole slideshow of our favorite Mediterranean recipes, filled with nuts, beans, fresh fruits and veggies, fish, and (of course) olive oil. The basic outlines of the scientific Med diet included more than four tablespoons of olive oil per day (including that used for cooking), two or more servings of vegetables, three or more of fruit, three servings of fish per week, white meat instead of red meat whenever possible, and a few handfuls of tree nuts every couple days. Perhaps more importantly, the Med dieters were supposed to have less than one serving per day of soda, spread fats, and red or processed meat, and less than three servings per week of commercial baked goods.


And, happily, the study notes that the heart-healthy participants on the Mediterranean diet were advised to drink at least (!) seven glasses of wine per week with dinner, assuming they were already drinkers. So even if you're eating to keep your heart healthy, no need to skimp on the vino with your olio.


Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke

By GINA KOLATA from The New York Times

About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.

The findings, published on The New England Journal of Medicine’s Web site on Monday, were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.

The diet helped those following it even though they did not lose weight and most of them were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.

“Really impressive,” said Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. “And the really important thing — the coolest thing — is that they used very meaningful endpoints. They did not look at risk factors like cholesterol or hypertension or weight. They looked at heart attacks and strokes and death. At the end of the day, that is what really matters.”

Until now, evidence that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of heart disease was weak, based mostly on studies showing that people from Mediterranean countries seemed to have lower rates of heart disease — a pattern that could have been attributed to factors other than diet.

And some experts had been skeptical that the effect of diet could be detected, if it existed at all, because so many people are already taking powerful drugs to reduce heart disease risk, while other experts hesitated to recommend the diet to people who already had weight problems, since oils and nuts have a lot of calories.

Heart disease experts said the study was a triumph because it showed that a diet was powerful in reducing heart disease risk, and it did so using the most rigorous methods. Scientists randomly assigned 7,447 people in Spain who were overweight, were smokers, or had diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat one.

Low-fat diets have not been shown in any rigorous way to be helpful, and they are also very hard for patients to maintain — a reality borne out in the new study, said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

“Now along comes this group and does a gigantic study in Spain that says you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent,” he said. “And you can actually enjoy life.”

The study, by Dr. Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona, and his colleagues, was long in the planning. The investigators traveled the world, seeking advice on how best to answer the question of whether a diet alone could make a big difference in heart disease risk. They visited the Harvard School of Public Health several times to consult Dr. Frank M. Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention there.

In the end, they decided to randomly assign subjects at high risk of heart disease to three groups. One would be given a low-fat diet and counseled on how to follow it. The other two groups would be counseled to follow a Mediterranean diet. At first the Mediterranean dieters got more intense support. They met regularly with dietitians while members of the low-fat group just got an initial visit to train them in how to adhere to the diet, followed by a leaflet each year on the diet. Then the researchers decided to add more intensive counseling for them, too, but they still had difficulty staying with the diet.

One group assigned to a Mediterranean diet was given extra-virgin olive oil each week and was instructed to use at least 4 four tablespoons a day. The other group got a combination of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts and was instructed to eat about an ounce of the mix each day. An ounce of walnuts, for example, is about a quarter cup — a generous handful. The mainstays of the diet consisted of at least three servings a day of fruits and at least two servings of vegetables. Participants were to eat fish at least three times a week and legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, at least three times a week. They were to eat white meat instead of red, and, for those accustomed to drinking, to have at least seven glasses of wine a week with meals.

They were encouraged to avoid commercially made cookies, cakes and pastries and to limit their consumption of dairy products and processed meats.

To assess compliance with the Mediterranean diet, researchers measured levels of a marker in urine of olive oil consumption — hydroxytyrosol — and a blood marker of nut consumption — alpha-linolenic acid.

The participants stayed with the Mediterranean diet, the investigators reported. But those assigned to a low-fat diet did not lower their fat intake very much. So the study wound up comparing the usual modern diet, with its regular consumption of red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods, with a diet that shunned all that.

Dr. Estruch said he thought the effect of the Mediterranean diet was due to the entire package, not just the olive oil or nuts. He did not expect, though, to see such a big effect so soon. “This is actually really surprising to us,” he said.

The researchers were careful to say in their paper that while the diet clearly reduced heart disease for those at high risk for it, more research was needed to establish its benefits for people at low risk. But Dr. Estruch said he expected it would also help people at both high and low risk, and suggested that the best way to use it for protection would be to start in childhood.

Not everyone is convinced, though. Dr. Caldwell Blakeman Esselstyn Jr., the author of the best seller “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure,” who promotes a vegan diet and does not allow olive oil, dismissed the study.

His views and those of another promoter of a very-low-fat diet, Dr. Dean Ornish, president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, have influenced many to try to become vegan. Former President Bill Clinton, interviewed on CNN, said Dr. Esselstyn’s and Dr. Ornish’s writings helped convince him that he could reverse his heart disease in that way.

Dr. Esselstyn said those in the Mediterranean diet study still had heart attacks and strokes. So, he said, all the study showed was that “the Mediterranean diet and the horrible control diet were able to create disease in people who otherwise did not have it.”

Others hailed the study.

“This group is to be congratulated for carrying out a study that is nearly impossible to do well,” said Dr. Robert H. Eckel, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado and a past president of the American Heart Association.

As for the researchers, they have changed their own diets and are following a Mediterranean one, Dr. Estruch said.
“We have all learned,” he said.

  Spaghetti with Clams

 

Ingredients

 

  • 6 1/2 pounds clams
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil divided
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced, divided
  • 3 small dried chiles, crumbled, divided
  • 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
  • Kosher salt and freshly gound black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

 

Preparation

 

  • Place clams in a sink filled with cold water. Scrub shells well with a coarse brush to remove any sand. Drain water and soak clams in clean water, repeating until water remains clean.
  • Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large pot with a lid over medium heat. Add ¼ cup wine, 1 garlic clove, and 1 chile. Add half of clams, cover, and cook over high heat, shaking pan frequently, until clams open (keep lid on pot so heat is not released, making cooking time longer). As soon as clams open, transfer clams and their juices to a large bowl (discard any clams that do not open). Repeat process with 2 Tbsp. oil, remaining ¼ cup wine, 1 garlic clove, 1 chile, and remaining clams.
  • Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until tender but al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
  • Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in pot with lid over medium heat. Add remaining 1 garlic clove and remaining 1 chile; stir until garlic is fragrant and light golden, 1–2 minutes. Return clams and their juices to pot; toss to coat and remove from heat. Add pasta and toss to coat evenly with juices, adding pasta cooking liquid by ¼-cupfuls if pasta is dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle parsley over.

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