A plant-based, Mediterranean diet that includes nuts or virgin olive oil can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 30 percent, according to a study released Monday at the 6th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition hosted by Loma Linda University Health.
The study, conducted by 16 research groups in seven communities in Spain, involved 7,447 individuals, 55-80 years old, at high risk of cardiovascular disease but with no symptoms, a university spokesman said.
Called "PREDIMED" for "PREvención con Dieta MEDiterránea" - Prevention with Mediterranean Diet - the study is expected to appear in the New England Journal of Medicine, Herbert Atienza of Loma Linda University said.
The study began in 2003 and was completed in 2011, Atienza said. Participants were followed for an average of more than 4 years.
The results of the study favor Mediterranean diets supplemented with nuts or virgin olive oil "over a low-fat diet for beneficial effects on intermediate outcomes that include body weight, blood pressure, insulin resistance, blood lipids, lipid oxidation and systemic inflammation," Atienza said.
The Mediterranean diet is similar to the traditional dietary habits of people living in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Atienza said. It includes fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, whole grains and nutritious fats, including walnuts and olive oil.
"The aim of PREDIMED was to determine whether a plant-based Mediterranean diet, supplemented with either tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts or virgin olive oil, when compared to a low-fat diet, can help prevent cardiovascular diseases such as cardiovascular death, heart attack and stroke," said Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez of the University of Navarra, Spain, a lead investigator of the study, which was released simultaneously in Loma Linda and Spain.
"What we found was that a Mediterranean diet offers a preventive efficacy that was also assessed on secondary variables, including death from all causes, and incidence of diabetes and metabolic syndrome," Martinez said.
Participants in the study were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
- Low-fat diet (control group)
- Mediterranean diet supplemented with virgin olive oil (50 ml per day)
- Mediterranean diet supplemented with 30 g mixed nuts per day (15 g walnuts, 7.5 g almonds and 7.5 g hazelnuts)
"This study is a prime example of the type of international research being shared at this conference of 800 academics, researchers, dieticians and others dedicated to advancing research about the benefits of plant-based diets," said Dr. Joan Sabaté, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Loma Linda University School of Public Health.
Sabaté served as principal investigator in a nutrition research study that directly linked the consumption of walnuts to significant reductions in serum cholesterol, Atienza said. His findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993.
"Twenty years ago we released a study showing the health benefits of nuts," Sabaté said. "Now, the results of a trial, also released at Loma Linda, further demonstrate that a plant-based diet, infused with nutritious unrefined plant fats, can have long-lasting effects for heart health and a productive and a productive life."
The three-day International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition is being held at Drayson Center at 25040 Stewart St. It's held every five years and features research on topics including diet and longevity, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, and how vegetarian diets can reduce weight.
For more info visit www.VegetarianNutrition.org.
Loma Linda University Health includes Loma Linda University's eight professional schools, Loma Linda University Medical Center's six hospitals and more than 900 faculty physicians.
Established in 1905, LLUH is billed as a global leader in education, research and clinical care. It offers over 100 academic programs and provides quality health care to 40,000 inpatients and 1.5 million outpatients each year.
Loma Linda University Health is a Seventh-day Adventist organization, a faith-based health system with a mission "to continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ," according to the university.