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Can The Mediterranean Diet Lower Cholesterol?

The Mediterranean Diet Has a Low of Healthy Benefits

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Updated April 28, 2014

Updated April 28, 2014
The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of food consumption present in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, especially southern Italy and Greece. This diet emphasizes the consumption of lean meats, olive oil, red wine, whole grains, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that despite the fact that individuals in this region consuming a high amount of fat, they also have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, individuals consuming this diet have been shown to have lower rates of cancer and chronic diseases. It also appears that the Mediterranean diet may lower cholesterol levels, too.

Characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a balanced diet full of a variety of foods and can be followed easily. Key characteristics of the Mediterranean diet include:
  • One to two glasses of red wine per day for men and one glass of red wine per day for women.
  • Daily consumption of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Whole grains used in breads, cereals, couscous and pastas.
  • Weekly consumption of meats, such as poultry, eggs (0 to 4 eggs per week), lamb, veal, and fish and other seafood. Very little red meat is consumed using this diet.
  • Nuts, legumes, and beans are consumed daily.
  • Olive oil is often used alone or in substitution for other oils, butter, and margarine.
  • Cheeses (such as mozzarella and feta) and yogurt.

At a closer glance, the Mediterranean diet closely mirrors the essentials of a low cholesterol diet, encompassing factors such as:

  • High consumption of fiber, due to the high consumption of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Low amounts of saturated fat (the “bad” fat) consumed.
  • High consumption of unsaturated fats (the “good” fats) that are found in nuts, fish, and olive oil.

Can The Mediterranean Diet Lower Cholesterol?

Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet in lowering cholesterol, and these studies appear promising. Most of these studies have focused on the Mediterranean diet, emphasizing the consumption of high amounts of virgin olive oil (up to one liter per week) or nuts (up to 30 grams a day, or two handfuls), or in comparison to a low-fat diet. From these studies, it can be concluded that, for the most part, the Mediterranean diet can modestly lower LDL and triglycerides, as well as raise HDL cholesterol.

Some of these studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet is superior to a regular low-fat diet. In one study it appeared that cholesterol was lowered significantly more than a low-fat diet. On the other hand, another study indicated that there was no difference between a low fat diet and Mediterranean diet in the reduction of heart disease risk. There would need to be more studies to further establish this.

The Mediterranean diet also appears to be beneficial for overall health, too. For instance, this diet has also been studied for its ability to lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose, incidence of asthma, and the prevention of heart disease. Despite the high amounts of unsaturated fat consumed in this diet, many of the studies did not note weight gain in any of its participants.

Sources:

Estruch R, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Corella D, Salas-Salvado J, Ruiz-Gutierrez V, Covas MI, Fiol M, Gomez-Gracia E, Lopez-Sabater MC, Vinyoles E, Aros F, Conde M, Lahoz C, Lapetra J, Saez G, Ros E; PREDIMED Study Investigators. "Effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a randomized trial." Ann Intern Med. 2006 Jul 4;145(1):1-11.

Kris-Etherton P, Eckel RH, Howard BV, et al. Lyon Diet Heart Study : Benefits of a Mediterranean-Style, National Cholesterol Education Program/American Heart Association Dietary Pattern on Cardiovascular Disease Step I. Circulation 2001 (103): 1823-1825.

Michalsen A, Lehmann N, Pithan C. Mediterranean diet has no effect on markers of inflammation and metabolic risk factors in patients with coronary artery disease. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006 Apr;60(4):478-85.

Rolfes SR, Whitney E. Understanding Nutrition, 3rd ed 2005.

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