The wide use of olive oil in food preparation throughout the Mediterranean region contributes to a diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids and cultures commonly known for lower blood pressure among their populations. Recent research has produced scientific proof that a Mediterranean diet (which includes olive oil) is not only generally healthful, but that consuming olive oil can actually help lower harmful low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (often referred to as "bad" cholesterol). Olive oil contains antioxidants that discourage artery clogging and chronic diseases, including cancer.
The Mediterranean diet offers a practical and effective strategy that is relatively easy to adopt and more likely to be successful over the long term than most heart-healthy nutrition plans. In April 2001, the American Heart Association (AHA) published a science advisory stating that some components nutrition: the maintenance of health through proper eating, or the study of same ritual: ceremony or frequently repeated behavior lactose intolerance: inability to digest lactose, or milk sugar fatty acids: molecules rich in carbon and hydrogen; a component of fats blood pressure: measure of the pressure exerted by the blood against the walls of the blood vessels cholesterol: multi-ringed molecule found in animal cell membranes; a type of lipid antioxidant: substance that prevents oxidation, a damaging reaction with oxygen artery: blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart toward the body tissues cancer: uncontrolled cell growth cardiovascular: related to the heart and circulatory system saturated fat: a fat with the maximum possible number of hydrogens; more difficult to break down than unsaturated fats trans-fatty acids: type of fat thought to increase the risk of heart disease heart disease: any disorder of the heart or its blood supply, including heart attack, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease of the Mediterranean diet may be beneficial when used in conjunction with the association's traditional diets for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
In the Mediterranean diet, not all fat is regarded as bad, however. In fact, the focus of the diet is not to limit total fat consumption, but rather to make wise choices about the type of fat in the diet. The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat, which is found mostly in meat and dairy products, vegetable oils such as coconut and palm oils (tropical oils), and butter. The diet views two types of protective fats, omega-3 fatty acids and monounsat-urated fats, as healthful and places no restrictions on their consumption. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish (e.g., sardines, salmon, tuna) and in some plant sources (e.g., pistachios, walnuts and other tree nuts, flaxseed, various vegetables). Monounsaturated fat is abundant in olive oil, nuts, and avocados.
Because the Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating whole, natural foods, it is extremely low in trans-fatty acids, which are increasingly recognized as important contributors to heart disease. These fats are found in hard margarine and deep-fried and processed snacks and food, including fast food and commercially baked products. They are similar to saturated fats and are known to raise levels of LDL cholesterol. Eating a diet incorporating the traditional foods of the Mediterranean, such as a variety of fruits and vegetables, has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease. Five important dietary factors may contribute to the cardioprotective effect of this eating pattern. These are the inclusion of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, nuts, and moderate amounts of alcohol, and the exclusion of trans-fatty acids.
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