A study published in April 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine tested the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet for protection against CV disease. The study was specifically designed to test the effectiveness of two versions of the Mediterranean diet, one supplemented with additional extra-virgin olive oil and one supplemented with additional nuts, as compared to a standard low-fat diet.
Nearly 7,500 participants, all with similar medication regimens, were randomly assigned to one of the three groups, and all three groups had similar physical activity. The three groups differed only in the diet. Here’s what they found in a follow-up after nearly five years:
- 96 CV events occurred in the group on the Mediterranean diet supplemented with additional extra-virgin olive oil (12% reduction in CV events).
- 83 CV events occurred in the group on the Mediterranean diet supplemented with additional nuts (24% reduction in CV events).
- 109 CV events occurred in the group on a standard low-fat diet.
The authors of the study concluded that both Mediterranean diets “resulted a substantial reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events among high risk persons”, and that “the results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of CV disease”.
The Mediterranean diets in this study reduced the number of CV events by as much as 24% compared to a standard low-fat diet. These findings are consistent with the findings of prior observational studies. But why wasn’t a whole food plant-based diet included in this (or any other) study for comparison?
It turns out that CV disease is virtually absent in populations that consume whole food plant-based diets (primarily grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits) such as the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico, the Papua highlanders of New Guinea, and those in rural China and central Africa.
The virtual absence of CV disease in each of those populations demonstrates that a whole food plant-based diet reduces the number of CV events by close to 100%! I would consider those results significant!
Dean Ornish demonstrated that intensive diet and lifestyle changes, namely a whole food plant-based diet, causes regression of CV disease. According to Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, “A plant-based diet with less than 10% fat will prevent CV disease from developing, halt the progress of existing disease, and even reverse the disease in many patients.”
Dr. Esselstyn points out that unlike a whole food plant-based diet, no studies of monounsaturated oils have shown them to arrest and reverse CV disease. The Mediterranean diet and monounsaturated oils have become unjustifiably popular due to the Lyon Diet Heart Study, which showed a slower rate of CV disease progression, hardly an acceptable goal. In a study of patients with CV disease, Blankenhorn actually showed that the disease progressed as rapidly in patients on a monounsaturated diet as it did in those on a saturated fat diet.
So while the Mediterranean diet sounds good compared to a standard low-fat diet, a whole food plant-based diet has consistently demonstrated significantly more impressive results.
Share any results you have experienced on either the Mediterranean diet or a whole food plant-based diet.