More Evidence Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Veggies Help the Heart

More Evidence Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Veggies Help the Heart

         NEW YORK |          Thu Dec 30, 2010 4:23pm EST

NEW YORK  (Reuters Health) – It’s no secret that eating well is good for both  body and mind, so it may not come as a surprise that a new study finds  women who eat more olive oil and leafy vegetables such as salads and  cooked spinach are significantly less likely to develop heart disease. A group of Italian researchers  found that women who ate at least 1 serving of leafy vegetables per day  were more than 40 percent less likely to develop heart disease over an  average of eight years, relative to women who ate two or fewer portions  of those vegetables each week. Women  who downed at least 3 tablespoons of olive oil daily – such as in salad  dressing – were also 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with heart  disease, compared to women who ate the least olive oil. It’s  not exactly clear why specifically leafy vegetables and olive oil may  protect the heart, study author Dr. Domenico Palli of the Cancer  Research and Prevention Institute in Florence told Reuters Health.  “Probably the mechanisms responsible for the protective effect of  plant-origin foods on cardiovascular diseases involve micronutrients  such as folate, antioxidant vitamins and potassium, all present in green  leafy vegetables.” Folate reduces  blood levels of homocysteine, Palli explained, which is thought to  increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by damaging the inner lining  of arteries. Other studies have shown people who eat more potassium  have lower blood pressure, which can protect the cardiovascular system.  Virgin olive oil may be particularly effective at lowering heart disease  risk because of its high level of antioxidant plant compounds, he  added. This is not the first study  to link olive oil or vegetables to good heart health. Most famously, the  traditional Mediterranean diet — rich in vegetables and  monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts, but low in saturated fat  from meat and dairy — has been tied to a decreased risk of heart  disease. Mediterranean-style eating  has also been credited with lowering risk for some cancers, diabetes,  and, more recently, with slowing brain aging (See Reuters Health story  of December 29, 2010). Cardiovascular  disease is a major killer, responsible for 30 percent of all deaths  worldwide and the leading cause of death for both men and women in the  U.S. To look more closely at the  role of foods in protecting against heart disease, Palli and colleagues  reviewed dietary information collected from nearly 30,000 Italian women  participating in a large national health study. Researchers followed the  women, whose mean age was 50 at the beginning of the study, for an  average of 8 years, noting who developed heart disease. In  that time, the women experienced 144 major heart disease-related  events, such as heart attack or bypass surgery, the authors report in  the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Women  who ate at least one daily serving (about two ounces) of leafy  vegetables – such as raw lettuce or endives, or cooked vegetables like  spinach or chard — had a 46 percent lower risk of developing heart  disease than women who ate at most two portions per week. Consuming  at least an ounce of olive oil per day lowered their risk by 44 percent  relative to women who consumed a half-ounce or less daily, the authors  found. The women’s intake of other  types of vegetables, such as roots and cabbages, and their consumption  of tomatoes or fruit did not seem to be linked to their risk for major  heart events. Both fruits and  vegetables have been associated with heart benefits in past studies  conducted elsewhere in Europe and in North America. The authors caution  that the apparent lack of positive effect from high fruit consumption in  their results may have something to do with a different attitude toward  fruit in Italy.  It is cheap, varied and easily available, so eating a lot of fruit is a  widespread habit but it does not necessarily signal that the rest of  someone’s diet is as healthy, the authors wrote. Another  issue with the study, Palli noted in an e-mail, is that women had to  report how much they ate of various items, and some may not have  remembered their diets accurately, or may have changed their eating  habits during the study period. In addition, people sometimes  over-estimate their healthy behaviors, believing they eat healthier than  they really do. SOURCE: link.reuters.com/dag34r American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online December 22, 2010

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