My eyebrows rose when I saw the news this week. “Olive oil diet curbs strokes,” The Wall Streeet Journal trumpeted. “It’s the Olive Oil: Mediterranean Diet Lowers Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke,” Time declared in its online article.
They and other media outlets were were referring to a big new health study. It suggests a Mediterranean diet – particularly one rich with extra virgin olive oil and nuts – lowers the risk of stroke and other heart problems by 30 percent among high-risk individuals.
Steven Nissen, chair of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Journal the study was “hugely important,” adding that the diet delivered about the same beneficial effects as cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins.
“What we can say to patients is this very palatable Mediterranean diet looks to be healthiest,” added Nissen, who wasn’t involved in the study, which ran in the New England Journal of Medicine. “I’m going to change my own diet; add some more olive oil, some more nuts.”
In addition to olive oil and nuts, the traditional Mediterranean diet is heavy on vegetables, fruit, fish, legumes and grains.
The study tracked 7,447 persons in Spain aged 55 to 80. Researchers ended it early after nearly five years because the results were so striking; it was considered unethical to continue.
The participants had high cardiovascular risk but didn’t suffer from heart disease at enrollment. Two groups were advised to follow a Mediterranean diet, with one group told to consume at least four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day. The other was told to eat about an ounce of nuts daily, including almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts.
A third control group was advised to follow a low-fat diet including fruit, veggies, low-fat dairy, fish and pasta.
The study noted a “Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, resulted in a substantial reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events among high-risk persons. The results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”
According to The New York Times, heart experts called the study “a triumph because it showed that a diet was powerful in reducing heart disease risk, and it did so using the most rigorous methods.”
Looks like I’ll be giving all my meals an additional drizzle of our extra virgin olive oil.