Sun-ripened strawberries on oatmeal; a handful of walnuts to get through that 4 o'clock slump; grilled salmon, roasted veggies and a salad drizzled with olive oil for dinner: At last, we've got solid proof that scrumptious foods like these can slash your risk for stroke and other cardiovascular disasters by a whopping 30 percent. It's thanks to a headline-grabbing study from Spain that overhauled the diets of 7,447 people (even though the researchers made a big flub when they conducted the study; more on that in a minute!).
Two-thirds of the study's participants conscientiously followed heart-healthy Mediterranean diet plans -- plenty of produce, dried beans and fish, with an extra dose of good fats from olive oil or nuts.
The rest of the participants were supposed to eat a low-fat diet (with no olive oil or nuts), but the researchers left them on their own. So guess what happened? These folks weren't able to learn the low-fat regimen, and their diets were a disaster. They ate more bad fats, munched heart-threats like refined grains (white bread, white rice, white pasta) and drank sugary sodas.
So in reality -- and contrary to what many TV shows and newspapers reported -- the study doesn't prove Mediterranean diets are healthier than a low-fat diet, because nobody ate low fat! What it does show is that Mediterranean eating styles (or in this case, "SSD," for "standard Spanish diet") trump the typical fat-, sugar- and chemical-laden North American diet (called "SAD," for "standard American diet") when it comes to stroke and heart-attack prevention!
We're fans of this study for another reason, too. It proved that what you eat matters big time, even for people with optimal medical and medication management. The scientists recruited men and women in their 50s through their 80s with diabetes or at least three risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high LDL "lousy" cholesterol levels or a family history of early heart disease. And those folks saw big benefits from eating the SSD diets -- even if they were already taking medication for high cholesterol or high blood pressure. (Another 30,000-plus person study reinforces this finding: It reported that people taking heart-protecting medications who adopted a healthy diet slashed their risk for stroke, heart attack and heart-related deaths by as much as 35 percent.)
Heart-health experts are hailing the news as a way of eating healthfully that lets you actually enjoy life, and we agree! Both of us enjoy eating this way, and it's the foundation of the meal plans you'll find (with plenty of recipes) in "You: On a Diet." It's also the highly successful diet of the Lifestyle 180 program, developed by Dr. Mike for the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. Put it on your plate today with these four easy steps:
» Ban the five food felons. Skip all added sugars and all added syrups, any grain that isn't 100 percent whole, most saturated fat and all trans fats. Those bad fats clog artery walls with plaque and fuel bodywide inflammation, while added sugars, syrups and refined grains make your blood sugar spike, crusting hemoglobin proteins in red blood cells with sugar molecules. That damages artery walls, spurring plaque buildup.
» Say "yes" to good fats. Aim for three servings of omega-3-rich fish every week, and take 900 mg of DHA omega-3 from algal oil daily. Also, olive and canola oils, chia and flax seeds, avocados and walnuts are loaded with good fats.
» Get beany. Opt for no-sodium canned beans for convenience, then toss them into soups, stews, casseroles and chili, or drizzle with olive oil and herbs for a side dish. Gassy? That's what Beano is for.
» Get your carbs from veggies, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Shop for dessert in the produce department (mango and banana salad, anyone?). Look for fast-cooking whole grains like barley, whole-wheat couscous and quinoa. And reserve half of your plate for veggies at lunch and dinner. Your brain and your heart will love you for it.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.