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Mediterranean Diet Helps Prevent and Treat Metabolic Syndrome continued...

“This is an excellent study in terms of depth -- to combine 50 studies for a total of over half a million participants is tremendous and gives excellent ... information,” says Jessica Bartfield, MD, an internist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill.

“The conclusion that consumption of a Mediterranean diet lowers the prevalence and progression of the metabolic syndrome helps better support data from trials that already suggest this,” she says in an email. “We know omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in olive oil and other monounsaturated fats, are anti-inflammatory.”

Inflammation is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke, she says. “It makes sense that a Mediterranean diet can tame this inflammation and provide a protective benefit,” she says.

That said, the new study does have its share of limitations. “The studies varied greatly in terms of length with some as short as four weeks, some as long as four years, and only a few were conducted in the U.S. population where the food culture varies tremendously by region,” she says.

But “in the never-ending quest for the ‘perfect diet’ -- low-fat, high-protein, low-carb, no-sugar ... I would say that the Mediterranean diet comes pretty close,” she says.

Simple Changes, Big Benefits

Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, is a big advocate of the Mediterranean lifestyle. “This is the only thing I recommend for people,” she says. “This is a lifestyle, not a diet."

Little changes go a long, long way, she says.

“Fats don’t have to be creamy,” she says. “Cook with a tomato-based sauce with olive oil, and get rid of fried foods and grill with olive oil instead,” she says. “Choose different grains instead of white rice, and eat more fish and nuts and legumes and vegetables."

Being more active is also a part of this lifestyle, she says.

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