Most doctors agree that the best diets are those that not only help a patient lose weight, but also improve his or her overall health and reduce the risk for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. The Mediterranean diet has been gaining momentum in recent years because it has been linked to numerous health benefits, including heart health, cognitive benefits, reduction of cancer risk, and weight loss or maintenance. Now, a recent study suggests that following a Mediterranean-style meal plan can improve cardiovascular health, even if weight loss is not achieved.
A typical Mediterranean meal plan
Unlike many popular fad diets, the Mediterranean diet plan is sustainable and encourages the consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, with limited consumption of artery-clogging red meat. Dr. Michael Kaplan, founder of The Center for Medical Weight Loss, agrees with the need for weight loss programs that encourage overall health.
“Ideally, healthy diets should be combined with regular exercise to not only help patients lose weight, but lower cholesterol, and improve cardiovascular health,” advises Dr. Kaplan. “Achieving one goals helps you achieve the others.”
Lowered cholesterol levels
The study, led by registered dietitian Caroline Richard, was presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association in May, 2013. The study participants were 19 men between the ages of 24 and 62. All of the men had metabolic syndrome. They shared risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, high fasting glucose levels, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides and a high waist circumference.
The study participants followed a diet that was high in red meats, carbohydrates, refined sugar, and fats for the first five weeks of the study. During the subsequent five weeks, the men ate a typical Mediterranean diet, which was followed by 20 weeks of an unspecified weight loss program. The final stage of the study consisted of five weeks of a Mediterranean-style meal plan.
At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that the men experienced a nine percent drop in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This health benefit was independent of whether or not the men had lost weight.
How to lose weight, Mediterranean-style
Despite the de-emphasis of weight loss in this study, those looking for advice on how to lose weight could consider the Mediterranean meal plan. However, it should also be noted that cookie-cutter approaches to health improvements and weight loss are not always viable. “Everyone has their own unique set of issues that stand in the way of successful weight loss,” explains Dr. Kaplan. “Those issues can be overcome with behavioral therapy, nutritional counseling, and exercise.”
More research is needed
Despite the encouraging results of this Mediterranean diet study, it should be noted that it is preliminary research and larger, more comprehensive studies are needed. The study did have a few limitations. The researchers used a very small group of study participants, all of whom were men. It appears that all of the men followed the same dietary protocols, with no control group to compare the results to. It would also be worthwhile to follow the study participants for an extended period of time to determine the long-term implications of a Mediterranean-style meal plan, and see if it truly is one of the best diets for heart health.
Among patients in a study at The Center for Medical Weight Loss, average weight loss was 28 pounds in 12 weeks, and 95 percent succeeded at maintaining weight loss after one year, according to the American Journal of Medicine. Read more about their weight loss programs at www.centerformedicalweightloss.com.
- Medical Express, Heart-healthy diet helps men lower bad cholesterol, regardless of weight loss, http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-05-heart-healthy-diet-men-bad-cholesterol.html
- WebMD, Mediterranean Diet Benefits Heart, Even Without Weight Loss: Study, http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20130501/mediterranean-diet-benefits-heart-even-without-weight-loss-study