A Mediterranean-style diet rich in protein, vitamin B3 and zinc may improve heart health, according to a new study. File photo by Africa Studio / Shutterstock
May 3 (UPI) – People who eat a Mediterranean-style diet rich in nutrients such as protein, zinc and vitamin B3 may see improvements in heart health, according to a study presented Tuesday.
After a year on a weight loss program that included personalized exercise plans, along with nutritional modifications centered on a “low-calorie, high-protein” form of the Mediterranean diet, 72 participants saw a 9% reduction of body weight, the researchers mentioned.
In addition, their measures of several key indicators of heart health – including assessments of arterial stiffness, carotid artery thickening and blood flow – also improved, data presented Wednesday at the European Congress on Obesity in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
All participants had metabolic syndrome — or at least three of these medical conditions: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high serum “bad” cholesterol, and low “good” cholesterol — at the start of the study, according to the researchers.
This put them at increased risk for heart disease and other heart health problems, including heart attacks and strokes, the researchers said.
“We found that changes in the consumption of specific food components were linked to better vascular structure and function,” said co-author Brurya Tal, clinical dietitian at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel, in a press release. .
Historically, improvements in metabolic and heart health seen after weight loss in obese people have been attributed to either weight loss or resultant changes in blood sugar and blood pressure, Tal and colleagues said. .
However, it’s also possible that the composition of the diet itself and specific nutrients in that diet are also involved, the researchers said.
For this study, the Israeli researchers recruited 72 adults with metabolic syndrome and obesity who had an average age of 53 at the start of the study.
The participants agreed to exercise regularly and adhere to a nutritional plan based on the Mediterranean diet, a diet made up largely of foods available in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the researchers said.
The Mediterranean diet includes plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes as well as “fresh in season and locally grown” olive oil and low to moderate amounts fish and poultry, according to Harvard Medical School.
Previous studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of heart disease in those who follow it.
Diet and exercise plans were personalized for each participant and included regular meetings with a doctor and dietician, the researchers said.
Participants were asked to complete a detailed dietary questionnaire one week before starting their diet and exercise plans and one year later, the researchers said.
Stiffening of the walls of the arteries, which carry blood from the heart, has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease in previous studies.
So in this research, the authors used it as a “proxy” for heart health, which they based on measurements of pulse wave velocity – essentially the speed at which blood moves through the circulatory system – as well as the intima media of the carotid artery. thickness and flow-mediated expansion, they said.
These last two measurements assess the thickness of the carotid artery, or the main artery of the heart, and the diameter of an artery that causes increased blood flow, respectively, according to Emory University.
After a year of diet and exercise, participants’ body mass index – a measure of body weight relative to height – fell by more than 9% on average, while average flow-mediated dilation s improved by 47%, according to the data.
In addition, participants’ average pulse wave velocity improved by 13% and carotid artery intima media thickness improved by 1%, the researchers said.
Improvements in pulse wave velocity have been associated with reductions in calorie and saturated fat intake as well as increases in zinc intake, as zinc improves blood vessel health, have- they stated.
According to the researchers, improvements in carotid artery intima media thickness were linked to reductions in calorie and saturated fat intake as well as increases in protein.
Finally, improvements in flow-mediated dilation were attributed to increased intake of niacin, or vitamin B3, which is known to dilate blood vessels, the researchers said.
“A Mediterranean diet, rich in protein – lean dairy products, fish, poultry and eggs – [and] rich in vegetables, nuts, seeds and with moderate consumption of fruits and grains, can help protect the cardiovascular system,” said Tal.
“Zinc-rich foods in the diet were sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and meat, [with] meat and fish provided[ing] niacin,” she said.