Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Nuts for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

In our third and final post in recognition of National Olive Oil Month, today’s article will review research on primary prevention of cardiovascular disease using a Mediterranean-style diet.

The Mediterranean Diet loosely defined is inspired by the eating habits of those countries who surround the Mediterranean Sea, including Spain, Italy and Greece. This diet emphasizes high consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as olive oil. There is more emphasis on fresh fish and less emphasis on red meats. Moderate wine consumption is also considered to be a component.

A group of researchers affiliated with the PREDIMED Study in Spain designed a study to examine the effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in a group considered to be at high cardiovascular risk.

Enrollees did not have a history of cardiovascular disease at the time of enrollment. The enrollees did have either type 2 diabetes, or at least 3 of the major risk factors of family history of premature coronary heart disease, high LDL, hypertension, low HDL, obese or overweight, or smoking.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups- a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a second group which followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented by nuts, or a third control group which was instructed to follow a low fat diet. Those in the extra-virgin oil group were instructed to consume at least four tablespoons of oil each day. Those in the nut-supplemented group received 30 grams of mixed nuts each day (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts). Participants adherence to each assigned diet was assessed by a food questionnaire. Subjects were followed on average for nearly 5 years. Primary end point was death from cardiovascular causes, heart attack, or stroke.

The researchers discovered that the Mediterranean-style diet, when either supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, was associated with a lower risk of major cardiovascular events over a period of 5 years, then was the low-fat control diet. In addition, among those who more closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet the cardiovascular benefit was greater.

Important points to consider regarding this study include- enrolled high risk subjects without a history of cardiovascular disease, and examined primary (not secondary) prevention. Also, these diets were not calorie restricted. Primary prevention is especially important, as that is what a lot of folks are concerned about.

This study leads to the veritable mountain of research showing that a proper diet can help or in this case prevent significant health issues. Perhaps give this some thought with the next trip to the grocery store or fast-food drive through window.

“Knowledge is the food of the soul.”–  Plato

(Source- New England Journal of Medicine 2018; 378)

This blog is a review of published medical and scientific literature, and should only be used for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical or health advice, nor does it create a physician-patient relationship with anyone. Discuss any health concerns with your personal physician.



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