Good Food Aids Good Cholesterol




A Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may enhance the cardioprotective benefits of high-density lipoproteins (HDL—the “good” cholesterol) in high risk individuals compared to other diets, according to research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation. The American Heart Association was not involved with this study.

High levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL—the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, a type of blood fat, are associated with an increased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases. HDL cholesterol is associated with a lower risk because these lipoproteins help eliminate the excess cholesterol from the bloodstream.

“However, studies have shown that HDL doesn’t work as well in people at high risk for heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases, and that the functional ability of HDL matters as much as its quantity,” said senior study author Montserrat Fitó, M.D., Ph.D., and coordinator of the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona and at the Ciber of Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBEROBN), Spain. “At the same time, small-scale trials have shown that consuming antioxidant-rich foods like virgin olive oil, tomatoes and berries improved HDL function in humans. We wanted to test those findings in a larger, controlled study.”

Researchers randomly selected 296 people at high risk of cardiovascular disease participating in the PREDIMED (PREvención con DIeta MEDiterránea) study. Blood samples were taken from the participants at the beginning of the study and again at the end. Participants, average age 66, were randomly assigned to one of three diets for a year: a traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil (about 4 tablespoons) each day, a traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with extra nuts (about a fistful) each day, or a healthy “control” diet that reduced consumption of red meat, processed food, high-fat dairy products and sweets. In addition to emphasizing fruit, vegetables, legumes, such as beans, chickpeas and lentils, and whole grains, both Mediterranean diets included moderate fish and poultry instead of red or processed meats.

The study found that only those on the control diet had lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. None of the diets increased HDL levels, but the Mediterranean diets had higher HDL function based on several measures.

Fitó and her team found that adhering to the Mediterranean diet, especially when enriched with virgin olive oil, was associated with increases in four important HDL functions: ability to remove cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol metabolism, HDL antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and vasoprotective effects.

Researchers said the differences in results between the diets were relatively small because the modifications of the Mediterranean diets were modest and the control diet was a healthy one. They added that study results are mainly focused on a high cardiovascular risk population that includes people who can obtain the most benefits from this diet intervention.

Still, Fitó said, “following a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil could protect our cardiovascular health in several ways, including making our ‘good cholesterol’ work in a more complete way.”

Source: American Heart Association News

See also:

Why Cholesterol Matters

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