Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have discovered that eating more of the unsaturated fats in avocados, olive oil and nuts—foods typical in the Mediterranean diet—and less white bread and pasta can improve heart health in people at risk for cardiovascular disease, including those who are overweight.
The researchers analyzed data from the OmniHeart Trial, which looked at the effects of three different diets on people with mild hypertension but without diabetes. Researchers monitored blood sugar and insulin levels in 164 people who rotated between diets high in carbohydrates; high in protein; or high in unsaturated fats, like the Mediterranean diet, for six weeks at a time. They found that the high unsaturated-fat diet was the best at improving the body’s insulin use. This is key in preventing type 2 diabetes—a major risk factor for heart disease.
“A lot of studies have looked at how the body becomes better at using insulin when you lose weight,” says Meghana Gadgil, MD, who presented the research at the American Heart Association’s meeting in November 2011. “We kept the weight stable so we could isolate the effects of the macronutrients. What we found is that you can begin to see a beneficial impact on heart health even before weight loss.”
The Mediterranean diet has been found in a variety of studies to lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 70 percent. Key components of the diet include:
- A variety of fruits, vegetables and beans
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Unsaturated fats such as olive oil rather than saturated fats such as butter
- Fish and poultry rather than red meat, eggs and dairy products
- Wine in low to moderate amounts