Michelle Obama, in addition to being first lady, has also become the first dietitian, thanks to her efforts to improve Americans’ eating habits, especially those of the young.
Thus, the results of a five-year nutrition study published Monday by the New England Journal of Medicine should grab her attention. Those participants in the study who were put on a Mediterranean diet – heavy on olive oil, nuts and fish – had a 30 percent lower risk of major cardiovascular problems even though most of them were already taking statins, diabetes drugs or blood-pressure medication.
The sponsors of the study were so impressed by the results that they canceled, for ethical reasons, the relatively ineffective low-fat diet being given a control group.
Rachel Johnson, a University of Vermont professor who heads the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee, called the results “really impressive,” especially because, as she told The New York Times, the researchers “did not look at risk factors like cholesterol or hypertension or weight. They looked at heart attacks and strokes and death. At the end of the day, that is what really matters.”
There were 7,447 participants in Spain, where the test was conducted, between the ages of 55 and 80, just over half of them women.
The Mediterranean diets – slightly different versions were given to two groups – included extra-virgin olive oil, fish, beans, tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts), three servings of vegetables a day, two servings of fruits, peas and lentils, white meat instead of red, and for those accustomed to the habit, seven glasses of red wine a week.
One of the study’s leaders, Dr. Ramon Estruch of Barcelona, said the diet did not supplant the proven treatments for high cholesterol and blood pressure, but was a good first step to prevent heart problems. And, he told the Times, the best way to use the diet for protection would be to start it in childhood.
Obama will have her nutritional work cut out for her, showing up in the nation’s schools with fish, olive oil and nuts.