Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health
by Lucia Stansbie
Summertime is here and so many lovely produce associated with the Mediterranean diet are in season.
With Mediterranean diet is mean the traditional way of eating typical of Southern European regions such as Greece, Spain, Italy, the Balkans and Northern Africa. The traditional Mediterranean diet pyramid image we see in different media dates back from the 70s when Ancel Keys compared the risk of CVD in middle aged man between seven countries, founding that people in the Mediterranean area (specifically Corfu and Crete) had the lowest.
Why the Mediterranean diet is protective towards cardiovascular health? One of the reasons is the high content of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), fibre and antioxidants.
Main sources of MUFAs are olive oil, olives and nuts and accordingly to different studies preferring MUFAs to other kind of fats such as saturated and trans fats can help lower the total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL also known as “bad cholesterol”) cholesterol levels but maintain your high-density lipoprotein (HDL as known as “good cholesterol”) cholesterol level.
Some research also shows that MUFAs can have a positive impact on insulin levels and blood sugar control, helping in type2 and pre-diabetes management.
Olive oil is also source of squalene, which research shows can protect skin from UV induced damage, support cellular energy production and protect the liver against age-related impairment of mitochondrial function.
Olive oil can also increase DAO, the enzyme responsible for breaking down histamines, production meaning it can beneficial in modulating allergic reactions and histamine sensitivity.
Lastly olive oil can also stimulate bile production, which is needed to emulsify fats in order to be digested.
Being so rich in fruit and vegetables, the Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidant polyphenols which can have a cardio protective effect. An interesting one is proanthocyanidins (PAC) mainly found in red grapes seeds and skin. PAC can prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (one of the possible causes of cardiovascular disease) and can reduce blood pressure.
Red grapes skins are also a source of resveratrol, an antioxidant which studies associate with heart health, possibly reducing blood pressure and improving blood lipid profile.
The Mediterranean diet is also well known for consumption of oily fish instead of red meat. Oily fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and tuna are a source of omega3 fatty acids, whilst red meat is a source of saturated fats and omega6 fatty acids. Numerous studies associate omega3 fatty acids with reduced inflammations, improved cardiovascular health and an improved cholesterol profile. Another good source of omega3 fatty acids are nuts such as walnuts and almonds, abundant in the Mediterranean diet.
Walnuts are also a source of arginine a precursor of nitric dioxide, a compound needed for vasodilation and reduced cardiovascular inflammation.
Is easy to incorporate some good habits and nutrients typical of the Mediterranean diet in every day’s diet: include one portion of oily fish 3 times per week, use olive oil as main condiment, include nuts such as walnuts and almonds a few times per week and have plenty of fruits, vegetables and nuts trying to include seasonable produce.