Spanish researchers have documented the antioxidant benefits of a traditional Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes grains and seafood over red meat and is rich in fruits and vegetables.

The randomized trial was part of a large-scale diet investigation under way in Spain. This study compared two versions of the Mediterranean diet, one supplemented with olive oil, the other with mixed nuts. A third diet was also studied, a low-fat regimen that followed American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines.

The subjects, aged 55-80 years, were either diabetic or had at least three other cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, such as smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, and family history of CVD.

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After three months, subjects who “improved their diet toward a traditional Mediterranean pattern showed significant reductions in cellular lipid levels and LDL oxidation,” the study concluded (Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1195-1203). Oxidized LDL levels dropped 10.6 U/L in the Mediterranean plus olive oil group and 7.3 U/L in the Mediterranean plus nuts group, vs. 2.9 U/L in the AHA diet group.

None of those in the Mediterranean groups gained weight “even though they were consuming increased amounts of fatty foods. That’s probably because the olive oil and nuts contain good, unsaturated fats,” said researcher Emilio Ros, MD, PhD.