Mediterranean Diet an Enjoyable Alternative to a Low-Fat Diet for Heart Health

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New study shows that the Mediterranean diet is a less restrictive alternative to a low-fat diet for a healthy heart

Fatty foods like olive oil, nuts and fatty fish were on the banned list for many years for heart patients and those trying to reduce their risk of heart disease, but these foods have been eaten and enjoyed for centuries throughout the Mediterranean region where heart disease rates are traditionally very rare

If you've ever tried to follow a low-fat diet to improve your heart health, but found it too restrictive, a new study shows there's a valid and very palatable alternative -- the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet, which previous studies have shown reduces the risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, is also as effective at reducing heart attacks and strokes as the American Heart Association's low-fat diet a new study has found.

The study, presented Sunday at an American College of Cardiology conference, involved 202 heart attack survivors who were divided into three groups. One group was put on the Mediterranean diet rich in fat from olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon; one group was put on a low-fat diet; and the other group simply got "the usual advice in the hospital -- that was it," according to lead researcher Dr. Katherine Tuttle of Providence Medical Research Center and Sacred Heart Medical Center.

After four years, 83 percent of those on the Mediterranean diet or low-fat diet had survived second heart attacks, strokes and heart-related hospitalizations, compared to only 53 percent in the other group.

"Hopefully people will now realize that they don't have to restrict fat in order to reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes -- as long as they choose the right kind of fats," said Trudy Thelander, co-founder of MediterrAsian.com (http://www.mediterrasian.com) and co-author of The MediterrAsian Way, a cookbook and lifestyle guide based on the diets and lifestyles of Mediterranean and Asian cultures.

"Fatty foods like olive oil, nuts and fatty fish were on the banned list for many years for heart patients and those trying to reduce their risk of heart disease, but these foods have been eaten and enjoyed for centuries throughout the Mediterranean region where heart disease rates are traditionally very rare," said Thelander. "So it's good to see that the Mediterranean diet is finally being recognized by modern medicine as a more palatable alternative to a stricter low-fat diet."

Two heart-healthy Mediterranean recipes. From The MediterrAsian Way (John Wiley & Sons, 2007)

Mediterranean-Style Grilled Marinated Salmon

Serve these simple and stylish salmon steaks with a crisp salad and fresh crusty bread.

Serves 4

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Four 6-ounce (180g) uncooked salmon steaks
Lemon wedges, for serving
Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, basil, salt, and pepper in a bowl until well combined. Marinate the salmon steaks in the mixture, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Cook the salmon on a hot grill for 3 minutes on each side, brushing with the marinade. Serve the salmon with lemon wedges for squeezing.

Shrimp, Tomato, Pea, and Basil Risotto

Risottos are usually quite time-consuming to make because you have to stand over the cooking pot and stir constantly while regularly adding small amounts of stock. In some parts of Italy they've discovered that you don't have to go to such trouble in order to end up with a delicious creamy risotto. By simply adding all the ingredients to the pot, then covering with a lid, the risotto will cook by itself without the need to stir at all. In this risotto, tangy tomatoes and flavorful basil combine exquisitely with shrimp and peas.

Serves 4

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups arborio rice
4 ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1 cup white wine
4 cups fish, chicken, or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
32 large uncooked shrimp (prawns), peeled
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rice and cook for 1 minute, stirring to coat the rice with oil. Add the tomatoes, peas, wine, stock, salt, and pepper, bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove the lid, quickly place the shrimp on top of the rice, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Stir the basil, cheese, and reserved olive oil through the rice and serve.

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David Greenberg
John Wiley and Sons
201 748 6625
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