The Lyon Heart Study, conducted in Lyon, France, had six hundred participants. All of the participants were less than seventy and had recently suffered from a heart attack. These participants suffered no other health ailments. The experimental group was placed on a Mediterranean-style diet mainly consisting of fish, fruits, cereals, and beans. Thirty-percent of their calorie intake came from healthy monounsaturated fats similar to those found in olive oil with minimal consumption of saturated fats, which are also known as “bad” fats. The research diet included about two hundred milligrams of cholesterol and counseling from health professionals regarding diet and lifestyle.
The control group was given generic low-fat diet instructions by their physicians. The study was cut down by three years, from five years to two. The reason was that the study was deemed unethical, due to the fact that the experimental group had significantly less cardiovascular issues than the control group. Omega-3 fatty acids were shown to reduce the risk of a second heart attack. Incredibly, when researchers revisited the experimental test participants more than a year later, the majority of their former participants were continuing their diet and lifestyle. This study and its resulting conclusions have been backed up by countless other studies, including the Seven Countries Study, over the recent decades. If anything, new research has shown that the Mediterranean diet is nothing if not beneficial to the body.
The Mediterranean diet and similar diets made up primarily of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy monounsaturated fats have been shown to be the most beneficial. This type of diet has been shown to decrease the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Trans-fatty acids found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contained in processed foods increase heart attack risk. Omega-3 and monounsaturated fats found in fish, flax seed, olive oil, and canola oil among other sources, have been shown to do the opposite. Rather, the risk of heart attack and high HDL (bad) cholesterol are lowered. While many diets have been exposed as scams, the Mediterranean diet still lives on.
Of course, healthy fat is not the only component as to why the Mediterranean diet is so successful and synonymous with good health. No one nutrient or food group holds the key to good health by itself. Rather, it is a combination of food groups and nutrients. The benefits found in produce such as fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals are also part of the Mediterranean diet and any other healthy lifestyle. Phytochemical is the name for the wide array of chemical compounds found most commonly and abundantly in plants.
This discovery has sparked a revolution in nutrition science and the dinner table. Consumers are now thinking “nutritious” and “wholesome” rather than “quick” and “convenient”. Since the Mediterranean diet is more of a philosophy than a food guideline, it also impacts other health factors. This includes attitude, activities such as a walk after dinner, or one’s lifestyle. Less animal products and more produce seem to contribute to better heart health, lowered cancer risk, and a longer life. The “magic” of the Mediterranean diet is more than just parts of a diet or a glass of wine. It is not just healthy fats, more produce, or wholesome foods, it is an array of these components. A low fat intake while maintaining levels of healthy fats, fiber, and plenty of phytochemicals. These are all parts of a nutritional plan worthy of emulating and taking on. It is a lifestyle made by conscious choice.