Colette's Blog

Atkins—Even Better for Your Heart than the Mediterranean Diet?

November 17, 2014

A new study shows that about 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables—even wine at meals. In this study, just published on The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists in Spain randomly assigned 7,447 people to follow the Mediterranean or low-fat diet. In order to participate in the study, individuals had to have either type 2 diabetes, or have three of the following risk factors: be overweight/obese, smoke, has hypertension, abnormal cholesterol readings, or a family history of premature coronary heart disease.

In the past, low-fat diets have been shown to be very hard for patients to maintain, and this was the case in this study as well, even when the subjects received intense counseling and support on how to do the diet. In fact, participants on the low-fat diet did not lower their fat intake very much, and wound up resorting to the usual modern diet of red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods. For those on the Mediterranean diet, they were encouraged to eat either four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil a day or an ounce of a mix of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts each day Diet staples included three servings of fruit and at least two servings of vegetables, plus fish at least three times a week and legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, at least three times as week. Participants were also encouraged to eat white meat instead of red, and they were allowed to have wine with meals. They were asked to avoid commercially made cookies, cake and pastries and to limit their consumption of dairy products and processed meats. The bottom line? Participants on the Mediterranean diet lowered their risk of heart disease while enjoying a way of eating they could live with.

Atkins, similarly, advocates for a diet high in vegetable intake, high in healthy fats like olive oil and avocado, and after two weeks, incorporates nuts and berries. The difference is that Atkins allows the individual to find their personal carb tolerance to lose weight and keep it off, and in later Phases, you can add beans and fruits if your metabolism allows. In addition, the Atkins Diet is backed by more than 80 independent studies demonstrating its efficacy and safety.

While this latest study is great news for the Mediterranean diet, interestingly enough, it’s even better news for the Atkins diet, because a 2008 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that a low-carbohydrate diet like Atkins had a more favorable effect on blood lipid levels than both the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet. This is definitely food for thought if this week’s study shows that the Mediterranean diet is better for preventing heart disease than the low-fat diet, it is quite likely that the Atkins diet is even more effective. Atkins measures up well or surpasses the other diets in additional studies as well—one in 2010 that shows that low-fat, Mediterranean and low-carb diets lower heart disease risk by lowering blood pressure and one more recently in 2013 that show that low-carb diets are just as effective as low-glycemic-index, Mediterranean and high-protein diets in improving cardiovascular risk factors in people with diabetes.

Based on this latest research, not only has low fat once again failed the diet test, and you can continue to enjoy all the benefits of the Atkins diet, knowing that you are helping your heart in the process.

If you would like to read more about the studies, follow these links:

Estruch, et al (2013) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23432189

Ajala, et al (2013) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23364002

Shai, et al (2010) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20194883

Shai, et al (2008) http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0708681

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