More Good News on Mediterranean Diet

Being Greek does not necessarily mean eating healthy. A new study showed that adults in Greece who ate a traditional Mediterranean style diet-one that stresses eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and moderate consumption of red wine-were 47% less likely to develop heart disease than peers who were eating Western-style. A related study, however, showed that physicians often do not know enough about the diet to counsel patients.

Adults who adhere to a Mediterranean style diet—one that stresses eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and moderate consumption of red wine—were 47% less likely to develop heart disease than peers, according to a Greek study.

The diet is more a suggested eating pattern than a strict prescription for food intake. It calls for avoiding sugar, refined carbohydrates, and red meat.

The latest study, done by Ekavi Georgousopoulous, a PhD candidate at Harokipio University in Athens, Greece, echoes findings presented at the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association meeting in Nashville, TN.

The Greek study looked at 2,500 Greek adults ages 19 to 89 who provided researchers with health information and completed surveys about their habits over a 10-year period.

Overall 20% of the men and 12% of the women developed or died from heart disease. But those who said they ate according to the Mediterranean plan were 47% less likely to develop heart disease as those who did not follow the diet. Their eating habits were ranked on a 55-point scale, with 1 being the poorest diet score. For each 1-point increase on the scale, the subjects had a 3 % drop in heart disease risk.

Earlier research has shown that the diet is also linked to weight loss, reduced risk of diabetes, lowere blood pressure, and lower blood cholesterol levels. Women were better at following the diet than men.

Though the research took place in the Mediterranean, many Greeks have adopted a more Western diet, Georgousopoulous found.

The study is due to be presented on March 15 at the American College of Cardiology’s meeting in San Diego, CA.

In a related study also scheduled to be presented March 15 at the meeting, researchers quizzed 236 cardiologists, internists, and trainees at one academic medical center and found only 13.5% said they felt they knew enough about the pros and cons of various diets to counsel their patients.

Eugenia Gianos, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center said that of those who took the online survey nearly 90% knew the Mediterranean diet reduced cardiovascular disease, but only 45.5% knew that low-fat diets have never been shown to do so. Gianos conceded her study had limits—a 26.7% response rate and the fact that all the respondents worked at the same institution. But she believes it shows that physicians need more guidance on nutrition.