My plan had been to do something else but this new diet study makes a very powerful point:
The Mediterranean diet has been proved over and over again to be beneficial. Science is coming out of our ears to show it’s good for the heart and health in general.
But what you probably don’t know is that the evidence for the heart benefits of a low fat diet are almost non-existent. The only source I trust is Dean Ornish—but he confuses everything by adding many extra steps to just a “simple” fat free diet, which I consider the real cause of his undoubted success.
With no real validity to the low-fat regime (and lots of proven dangers) doctors still INSIST their patients do it.
Yet when it comes to a proven program, which flies in the face of their dumb prejudices, doctors rarely recommend the Mediterranean diet and most don’t even know what it is, beyond olive oil and salads!
The Mediterranean diet is something to get interested in; I love it! It consists of eating lots of olive oil, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, along with wine. And let me put in, right here, that Muslim Mediterranean countries (like Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco) do not have better longevity, despite the fact they supposedly don’t drink alcohol. In fact their figures are worse.
Actually, you are allowed up to half a liter of wine a day. Don’t worry if you prefer white; my friend John Ionescu did some oxidative value readings years ago (before the ORAC tests) and found white wine and champagne to have more antioxidants than red wine; red wine had way more antioxidant values than blueberries and all the supposed good stuff (ignore the phoney scores put out by MLM marketing people).
I suppose you shouldn’t start drinking wine but never be shy of it if you do. Wine is NOT “alcohol”; wine is wine. All the bad stuff you read about “alcohol” ALWAYS includes negative figures from spirits (very bad) and beers (lousy and fattening). Plus those who drink beer and spirits are poor lifestylers, by my definition!
The fact is, wine is a lovely form of sunshine. Just don’t get carried away with it and always drink it with food if you can. 2 – 4 glasses is just fine; it depends on your glass, of course!
Now The Science
So, the present study was carried out in Spain. I lived there for 3 years and they are, of course, a Mediterranean country, as well as having an Atlantic coast. The Spanish are very naughty and their fishing fleet goes all over the world, violating every international quote agreement there is.
British fishermen have to sit on the shore and watch the Spanish fleet come to within a few miles of land and harvest the fish that their own quota limits are supposed to be “preserving”.
The Canadians had a major run in with them a few years back, I remember; same reason. The Spanish love their fish, which is a crucial source of omega-3s!
Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez-Gonzalez, chairman of preventive medicine and public health at the Universidad de Navarra in Spain, led a 5-year investigation, tracking nearly 7,500 men and women, eating a typical Mediterranean diet. They ranged in age from 55 to 80 when they enrolled in the study, which began in Spain in 2003. Fifty-seven percent of the participants were women.
While they had no history of heart attack or stroke or other cardiovascular problems at enrollment, they did have risk factors such as type 2 diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
The researchers assigned the participants to one of three groups — a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet that focused on nuts or a Mediterranean diet that focused on olive oil.
During a follow-up period of about five years, study participants on the Mediterranean diet that emphasized either olive oil or nuts had a 30 percent greater reduction in relative risk of a heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular disease, compared to the low-fat regimen.
“This is a moderate-to-high benefit,” Gonzalez is reported as saying. “The low-fat diet also helped, but to a lesser degree.”
The new findings are published online Feb. 25, 2013, in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings were also presented at the 2013 International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition in Loma Linda, Calif. 
Overweight, Obesity and Diabetes
These were not even healthy subjects, yet the benefit was clear. On average, the men and women were overweight or obese. In all three groups, the average body-mass index was 30 or close to it, which is defined as obese.
The olive oil group consumed about a liter — roughly 34 ounces — of olive oil a week. The nuts group ate about one ounce of nuts a day, including walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. Members of both groups also ate plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as fish, and drank wine with meals. They could have white meat but were told to avoid red and processed meats.
The low-fat group ate low-fat dairy, breads, potatoes, fruits and vegetables and lean fish. They were told to avoid oils, baked goods, nuts, red and processed meat and fatty fish. In other words the classic Western carbohydrate junk food diet, all starch and little protein.
The French Paradox
Hand in hand with the Mediterranean diet, comes the so-called “French Paradox”. Most of France is NOT on the Mediterranean shore but the principles of good fresh food, plenty of vegetables, all served enjoyably, with lots of wine, seems to be a French thing. Earlier studies than the present one have shown the same amazing healthy properties of this style of eating (low carbs, virtually no manufactured foods).
The Lyon Diet Heart Study is a randomized single-blinded secondary prevention trial aimed at testing whether a Mediterranean-style diet may reduce the risk of recurrence after a first myocardial infarction. A surprising 50 to 70% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular complications was reported.
This strong protective effect was confirmed in the GISSI trial, where the risk of death was three times as low among CHD patients on a traditional Mediterranean diet as among patients following a Western diet. 
The Lyon trial also suggested that patients following the Mediterranean-style diet might also be protected from cancer.  Although further trials are warranted to confirm the cancer data, those of the Lyon trial are in line with epidemiological studies emphasizing the role of nutrition in the prevalence (and prevention) of many cancers. 
Note that, according to data from the first French national dietary survey (1999), called ASPCC, the consumption of fruit and the intake of fiber by the French appears to be very low, whereas their intake of saturated fatty acids is very high (16% of energy).
Wow! That’s the end of the saturated fats are bad story, surely?
So why does the Mediterranean diet seem to boost heart health? It’s the combination of good-quality fats — both monounsaturated like olive oil and polyunsaturated like vegetable oils — and the wide range of other nutrients. It’s also excluding unhealthy carbohydrates, though the people of those countries eat some bread and occasional rice.
The wine is a very important factor, I’m convinced. Evidence for the health benefits of wine are overwhelming, whatever the “can’t be true therefore it isn’t” party poopers have to say. Interestingly, the alcohol consumption per capita in France, Spain and Italy is vastly more than other non-Mediterranean countries in Europe (see table). Even Greece has double the average intake.
Country and Wine Alcohol Consumption Per Capita
- France –195
- United Kingdom –33
- Spain –129
- Italy –144
- The Netherlands –38
- Greece –84
- Sweden –33
There’s one element in this wine thing that nobody talks about: it’s summed up in one word — bonhomie. There is something about the slow, leisurely lunches in the sunshine, with a bottle of wine and amigos, that can’t be captured in scientific statistics.
But it’s real. I know. I’ve been there…
In a world dedicated to stress, rush, worry and tension, the idea of relaxing for lunch is revolutionary. But it calms and soothes. Wine opens the heart, as the Italians say (a day without wine is a day without sunshine). Good friends, good talk and good food and drink is a very healthful formula, whatever the nutritional ingredients may be.
But make them good ingredients: like fish, salads, fruit, vegetables and vino. You’ll live longer and…hey! If you don’t, at least you’ll have enjoyed your time on Earth!
2. Feb. 25, 2013, New England Journal of Medicine, online; Feb. 25, 2013, presentation, International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition, Loma Linda, Calif.
3. Marchioli R., Valagussa F., Del Pinto M., et al. Mediterranean dietary habits and risk of death after myocardial infarction. Circulation 2000;102(Suppl II):379.
4. de Lorgeril M., Salen P., Martin J.L., et al. Mediterranean dietary pattern in a randomized trial. Prolonged survival and possible reduced cancer rate. Arch Intern Med 1998;158:1181-1187.
5. Cummings J.H., Bingham S.A. Diet and the prevention of cancer. Br Med J 1998;317:1636-1640.
6. Volatier J.L., Verger P. Recent national French food and nutrient intake data. Br J Nutr 1999;81:S57-S59.