Mediterranean or Low-fat Vegan Diet: Which Is Better for Prevention of Heart Disease and Stroke?

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Recently, a randomized control trial was published looking at the effects of mediterranean diet picturesthe Mediterranean diet on the primary prevention of heart disease. In other words, does the Mediterranean diet prevent heart disease in people that never had it?

A total of 7,447 men and women were enrolled; none with heart disease, but all were at high risk for it. They were randomized into three groups.

  • A control group, which was advised to reduce dietary fat.
  • An experimental group, which was instructed on the Mediterranean diet with the addition of olive oil
  • Another experimental group, which was instructed on the Mediterranean diet with added nuts (walnuts or hazelnuts).

The investigators found that the Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of major cardiovascular events, in particular stroke. This trial adds even more evidence to the pile of research in support of the Mediterranean diet.

But…there has also been some criticism of this research, primarily from the low-fat vegan crowd. Dr. Ornish wrote an article on this research in the Huffington Post.

He says, and rightly so, that “The comparison (control) group did not follow a low-fat diet. As the authors wrote, “We acknowledge that, even though participants in the control group received advice to reduce fat intake, changes in total fat were small.” This is not surprising, since they gave the control group virtually no support at all in following this diet during the first half of the study.”

He also says that “The authors should have concluded that the Mediterranean diet reduced cardiovascular risk when compared to whatever diet they were eating before, not when compared to a low-fat diet, since patients in the control group (“low-fat diet”) were not consuming a low-fat diet.”

So who’s right?

The great news is that both diets are linked with lower rates of heart disease. That’s not surprising considering that both have some key components in common including lots of plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, not much or no red meat, and minimal processed foods.

Both diets impact traditional risk factors for heart disease such as high blood cholesterol or blood pressure. But even more compelling, both diets positively impact the novel risk factors highlighted in the graphic below such as inflammation, arrhythmic risk (irregular and deadly heart beats), endothelial dysfunction (unstable plaque), and thrombosis (clot formation).

risk factors

There are a few differences between the diets. Mediterranean diet followers consume higher amounts of DHA and EPA, also known as omega-3 fats, which are linked with lower rates of heart disease. These fats decrease the risk of clots and stabilize the heart beat. But the low-fat vegan diet has been found to actually reverse heart disease. And people who consume this diet have less stiffness of the arteries, which is what causes high blood pressure as we get older. This is practically unheard of in folks consuming meat.

So we have reason to celebrate! We have two viable options for people to consume that will help lower the risk of heart disease. I am hoping you are doing what you can to eat more veggies and less meat.

Eaitng veggies

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

6 thoughts on “Mediterranean or Low-fat Vegan Diet: Which Is Better for Prevention of Heart Disease and Stroke?

  1. Hi I’m David! Please email me when you get a chance, I have a question about your blog!
    David.D.Haas22{at}gmail{dot}com

  2. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment
    is added I get several e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?

    Thank you!

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