Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil may protect the heart

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FORGET chocolates and roses this Valentine’s day. Instead, cook up a Mediterranean-inspired meal with lashings of virgin olive oil to win and protect your lover’s heart. New research reports that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may boost the cardioprotective effects of “good” cholesterol.
Montserrat Fitó, Ph.D., was the senior author of the new research and coordinator of the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain, as well as the Ciber of Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition, also in Spain. Fitó and team’s findings were published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
There are two types of molecules called lipoproteins that carry cholesterol in the blood: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol, since having high levels of LDL can bring about plaque buildup in the arteries, which can result in heart disease and stroke. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol; HDL absorbs cholesterol and carries it to the liver where it is flushed from the body. Having high levels of HDL reduces heart disease and stroke.
A growing body of evidence supports the theory that the Mediterranean diet protects against the development of heart disease. Studies have also shown that the Mediterranean diet improves the lipid profile of HDLs.
“However, studies have shown that HDL doesn’t work as well in people at high risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases and that the functional ability of HDL matters as much as its quantity,” explains Fitó. “At the same time, small-scale trials have shown that consuming antioxidant-rich foods like virgin olive oil, tomatoes, and berries improved HDL function in humans. We wanted to test those findings in a larger, controlled study,” she adds.
The research team aimed to determine whether eating a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil or nuts over a long period of time would improve the beneficial properties of HDL in humans.
Fitó and collaborators randomly selected a total of 296 individuals who had a high risk of heart disease and were participating in the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea study. The participants had an average age of 66 and were assigned to one of three diets for a year.
The first diet was a traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with around 4 tablespoons of virgin olive oil per day. The second, a traditional Mediterranean diet supplemented with a fistful of nuts each day.

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