Italians are Nuts!

noci-parAnd no, I am not referring to the latest elections which will return my country to political turmoil once again but to the recent news on how a Mediterranean diet is what is best to prevent heart attacks and strokes from cardiovascular disease in people who are at high risk. But what exactly does it mean to eat that way? And is this diet only good for those people who are already at risk or also for the wider population. Our main take-away is that we’ll add more nuts to our diet. Come and cook with us!

First, let us look at the details. This week’s New York Times article “Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke”  reported in great detail the findings of a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Scientists compared a group of about 7,500 people in Spain who were randomly assigned to follow a low-fat diet vs. a Mediterranean diet based on either fats from olive oil (four tablespoons a day) or a combination of nuts (one ounce – equal to 1/4 cup – a day of a mix of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) along with the following:

  • at least three servings a day of fruits;
  • at least two servings a day of vegetables;
  • fish at least three times a week;
  • legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, at least three times per week;
  • white meat, instead of red; and
  • at least (!) seven glasses of wine a week with meals (for those accustomed to drinking).

Furthermore, these two groups were encouraged to avoid commercially made cookies, cakes and pastries and to limit their consumption of dairy products and processed meats. It wasn’t too hard for the research subjects to stick to these guidelines. After all, the mediterranean diet offers a lot of delicious choices.

Unfortunately, the first group put on a low-fat diet found it very hard to maintain the low-fat intake in the long run and, thus, participants of that group did not lower their fat intake ultimately reverting to the usual modern diet with its regular consumption of red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods.

The research clearly showed that following a Mediterranean diet significantly improves your heart health if you are at risk. However, it wasn’t able to show to those of us who are at low risk of heart disease that it is clearly better than a true very-low-fat or vegan diet – if you can stick to it, and for many of us that’s a big IF.

So in a nutshell, and yes now I’ll stop with the nutty puns, we’d all gain from eating more legumes, more vegetables and more fish (the good kind) and from staying away from too much cheese, red meat and processed foods. And while I think most of us get plenty of olive oil, most of us would benefit from the mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats in nuts. Here are some ideas on how to include them in your diet:

  • add cashews and peanuts to stir-fry;
  • toss roasted pine nuts into a marinara sauce;
  • add slivered almonds to yogurt;
  • nibble on a small handful of walnuts high in omega-3s;
  • create your own trail mix with nuts, dates, raisins and oats; and
  • eat almonds or peanut butter on slices of apple or sticks of celery.

Come and cook with us!

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