A Pesco-Mediterranean diet consisting of plants, legumes, nuts, whole grains, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), moderate amounts of dairy products, and fish and/or seafood, together with intermittent fasting (also called time-restricted eating), can reduce risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a new review.
The authors presented the research and conceptual underpinnings of this approach, which “proposes that following a Pesco-Mediterranean diet with time-restricted eating is evidence-based and ideal for reducing cardiovascular risk,” study coauthor Sarah Smith, PhD, RN, of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, Mo., said in an interview.
The review was published online September 14 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
A host of epidemiologic studies and randomized clinical trials support an association between the traditional Mediterranean diet and lower risk for all-cause and CVD mortality, coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome, neurodegenerative diseases, and other adverse outcome. The diet has been subsequently endorsed by several sets of guidelines, including those from the Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, and the 2019 American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology primary prevention guidelines.
“Although humans are omnivores and can subsist on a myriad of foods, the ideal diet for health remains a dilemma for many people,” lead author James H. O’Keefe, MD, director of preventive cardiology at Saint Luke’s, said in a news release.
“Plant-rich diets reduce CVD risk; however, veganism is difficult to follow and can result in important nutrient deficiencies,” he stated.
On the other hand, “the standard American diet is high in red meat, especially processed meat from animals raised in inhumane conditions, fed unnatural foods, and often treated with hormones and antibiotics,” the authors pointed out.
Together with overconsumption of red meat, sugar and processed food contribute to poor health outcomes, Dr. Smith noted.
The review was designed to present the Pesco-Mediterranean diet as “a solution to the ‘omnivore’s dilemma’ about what to eat,” said Dr. O’Keefe.
Study coauthor Ibrahim M. Saeed, MD, a cardiologist at Saint Luke’s, added that the research “attempts to emphasize the results of landmark prospective trials that highlight good, healthy eating options rather than just [foods that people would] want to avoid.”
The traditional Mediterranean diet includes “unrestricted use of EVOO,” but the quality of the olive oil is “crucial” and it must be unrefined and cold pressed, the authors emphasized.
The “highly bioactive” polyphenols likely “underlie EVOO’s numerous cardiometabolic benefits,” the researchers wrote, noting that the 2014 PREDIMED trial provided “first-level scientific evidence of [EVOO’s] cardioprotective effects [if used] within the context of the Mediterranean diet.”
The authors recommend “generous use” of EVOO in salad dressings and vegetable dishes, pasta, rice, fish, sauces, or legumes.
They also review the role of tree nuts, noting that they are “nutrient-dense foods rich in unsaturated fats, fiber, protein, polyphenols, phytosterols, tocopherols, and nonsodium minerals” and have been shown beneficial in CVD prevention.
Legumes play a “central role” in the Mediterranean diet and are an “excellent source” of vegetable protein, folate, magnesium, and fiber. Legume consumption is associated with lowered risk for CVD, as well as improved blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight, the authors stated.
Whole grains like barley, whole oats, brown rice, and quinoa are likewise central components of the traditional Mediterranean diet. The authors warned that refined grain products and commercial precooked pasta or pizza should be “consumed only in small amounts.”