The Mediterranean diet is hailed as one of the healthiest diets around.
While the benefits include boosting brain health, being good for the gut and reducing the risk of several types of cancer, it is particularly lauded for promoting cardiovascular well-being.
We observed that the Mediterranean diet model induced better endothelial function, meaning that the arteries were more flexible in adapting to different situations in which greater blood flow is required.
Much of this is down to the omega-3s and healthy fats found in olive oil, fish, legumes and nuts, which make up a large part of any traditional Mediterranean menu.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that adherents to the MedDiet are less likely to suffer heart problems than those who follow a bad diet and make unhealthy lifestyle choices.
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However, a new study published in the December 2020 issue of PLOS Medicine demonstrated that following the Mediterranean diet can lower the possibility of having a second heart attack.
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In the study, researchers from the University of Córdoba, Queen Sofia University Hospital and the Maimonides Biomedical Research Institute of Córdoba (Imibic) compared the effects of two different healthy diets on the endothelium, the walls that cover the arteries.
One thousand two participants who had previously experienced a heart attack agreed to be monitored over the course of a year.
During that period, half of the patients were instructed to follow a Mediterranean diet. Daily meals were based on the abundant use of extra virgin olive oil and consisted of other plant-based foods such as fruit and veggies.
The participants were also told to include three servings of legumes, fish and nuts each week. In addition, foods high in sugar content were off the menu as were saturated fats, such as red meat, butter and margarine.
The other half of the group was guided toward a low-fat diet that excluded several kinds of plant and animal fats from their daily dishes. They also increased their intake of complex carbohydrates, adhering to an eating plan of whole grains, peas, beans and fiber-rich fruit and vegetables during the study.
Like their counterparts on the Mediterranean diet, they were also told to cut down on red meat as well as reduce sugar-loaded foods and nuts.
As all participants had already experienced a heart attack, each one had their arteries checked at the start of the year to assess their hearts’ permanent damage as well as blood vessels’ vasodilation capacity, which relates to the heart’s ability to widen and increase blood flow to other areas of the body.
Alongside this, the reparation capacity of the arteries using endothelial progenitor cells, or stem cells, was also measured.
Each of these areas was reviewed once again at the end of the study and according to José López Miranda, one of the main researchers and coordinator of the nutritional genomics and metabolic syndrome research group at the Maimonides Biomedical Research Institute of Córdoba, it was the Mediterranean diet that proved to be more effective.
“We observed that the Mediterranean diet model induced better endothelial function, meaning that the arteries were more flexible in adapting to different situations in which greater blood flow is required,” López Miranda said.
“The endothelium’s ability to regenerate was better and we detected a drastic reduction in damage to the endothelium, even in patients at severe risk,” he added.
Proving that a Mediterranean diet is good for heart health is nothing new – numerous studies over the last few decades have highlighted this fact.
However, what made this new Spanish study special was that it was the first to ably show that adopting the Mediterranean diet after suffering a heart attack could reduce the possibility of another – and help lessen the damage brought on by cardiovascular disease.