Among a large group of Midwestern firefighters, those who stuck more closely to a Mediterranean-style diet faced a lower risk of heart disease than those who didn’t follow that eating regimen, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA).
Their study is the first to analyze the effects of a Mediterranean-style diet among a group of young, working U.S. adults. The diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, seafood and olive oil.
“Our study adds more evidence showing the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, even after adjusting for exercise and body weight,” Stefanos Kales, an associate professor at HSPH, said in a news release.
U.S. firefighters are known to have a high prevalence of obesity and risk factors for heart disease, according to the news release. A Mediterranean diet has been shown in previous studies to lower the risk of heart disease, it added. But those studies have mainly been conducted among older people, those with existing health conditions, and among Mediterranean populations.
The researchers analyzed medical and lifestyle data – including dietary habits – for 780 male firefighters in the Midwest. They developed a system to analyze the participants’ dietary patterns.
The firefighter group with the greatest adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet showed a 35% decreased risk in metabolic syndrome, a condition with risk factors that include a large waistline, high triglyceride level, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol level, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.
Firefighters who followed the diet the most closely also had a 43% lower risk of weight gain versus those who consumed a diet that was least like the Mediterranean diet.
In addition, greater adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was significantly associated with higher HDL cholesterol and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, according to the study.
Obese participants in the firefighter study reported a higher intake of both fast foods and sugary drinks, which is consistent with previous studies.
One researcher said the study shows that promoting Mediterranean-style diets could have significant health benefits for young, working populations.
“The logical next steps from our investigation are studies using the workplace to specifically promote Mediterranean dietary habits among firefighters and other U.S. workers,” Justin Yang, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at HSPH, said in the news release.