Staying Healthy Newsletter - In the News: Olive Oil, nuts & Hearts, ‘Slow Carbs’ Cool Inflammation, Omega-3s Aid Weight Training
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In the News: Olive Oil, nuts for Hearts, ‘Slow Carbs’ Cool Inflammation, Omega-3s Aid Weight Training

A Winning Combination

Three newly published studies confirm the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet – a way of eating that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, wine, fish and olive oil. (To learn more, see Staying Healthy from Aug, 2008).

Fine-tune this diet to make sure the carbohydrates are fiber-filled and low glycemic index. Then add in some strength training and fish oil. The result? A winning combination to enhance health as we age.

Olive Oil & Nuts Help Fight Atherosclerosis

A traditional Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil and nuts may be a good way to control risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) for some people, according to Spanish researchers. The investigators recently reported initial results (1) from a long-term study tracking some 7,500 people at risk for heart disease

In the trial, 187 volunteers at risk for CVD were placed into one of three groups: one followed a traditional Mediterranean diet (Med diet) and were free to consume virgin olive oil daily as desired; A second Med-diet group supplemented their diet with about 1 ounce of nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) daily; And those in the third group – who served as controls – were given individual counseling and educational material on how to follow a low-fat diet.

Among volunteers 55 years and older, carotid artery thickness (measured by ultrasound) was lower in both the Med-diet + olive oil and Med-diet + nut groups compared to those curtailing the overall fat in their diet. This finding, however, applied only to those who had some carotid artery thickening at the study’s start.

According to the researchers, modifying the dietary pattern of people with some thickening of the artery wall at the start of the study, gained results in one year that even pharmaceutical drugs usually don’t achieve.

All Carbs are not Created Equal

Since chronic inflammation in the body is linked to a broad range of health risks, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center set out to see whether the type of carbohydrate consumed can impact the inflammatory process (2).

Eighty healthy but obese or overweight men and women were assigned to a diet containing either slowly digested carbs or carbs that are more rapidly digested. They ate one diet for 28 days, followed by the other diet for the same amount of time. Both diets provided equal amounts of carbs, proteins, fats and calories, so that the type of carbohydrate was the sole difference between the two.

A 22% reduction in a key biomarker of inflammation, c-reactive protein or CRP, was seen during the slow carb diet period. A small, but favorable effect was also observed in levels of a hormone that helps regulate fat and sugar metabolism.

Slowly digested carbs, such as whole grains, beans, and other high-fiber foods, are also called low-glycemic index foods.  High glycemic index carbs like white flour, sugars and fiber-poor foods are more quickly digested. 

Omega-3s Enhance Strength Training in Older People

Aerobic exercise such as regular walking, running or biking, is great for the heart. But with age, it’s also important to focus on maintaining strong muscles. While the benefits of strength training have been know for decades, a new study suggests adding fish oil can maximize nerve and muscle responses to that training (3).

Women 64 or older received fish oil (400 mg EPA and 300 mg DHA daily) or placebo, before and/or during a 90-day strength program. Strength training boosted muscle torque (the rotating force needed to lift weights), but the effects were even more pronounced in those supplemented with omega-3s. The fish oil groups were better able to rise from a chair, for example, which can be difficult for the elderly.


  1. Murie-Fernandez, M et al. Carotid intima-media thickness changes with Mediterranean diet: a randomized trial (PREDIMED-Navarra). Atherosclerosis 219:158-62, 2011. 
  2. Neuhouser ML, et al. A low-glycemic load diet reduces serum c-reactive protein and modestly increases adiponectin in overweight and obese adults. J Nutr 42:369-74, 2012.
  3. Rodacki CLN, et al. Fish-oil supplementation enhances the effects of strength training in elderly women. Am J Clin Nutr Epub Jan, 2012
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