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Heart Disease Health Center

Traditional Low-Fat Diet Rated Healthy

Compared With Mediterranean Diet, Both Found Equally Good for Heart's Health
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 26, 2007 (New Orleans) -- Contrary to previous findings, the traditional low-fat diet recommended by the American Heart Association is just as heart healthy as a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil and nuts.

That news comes from Katherine Tuttle, MD, of the Providence Medical Research Center and Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash.

Tuttle’s team studied 202 people who had suffered heart attacks in the previous six weeks and found that people on either diet were two-thirds less likely to suffer another heart attack, stroke, or other heart problems or die than people who continued to eat their usual diet.

What made a difference was regular, structured visits with a nutritionist, Tuttle tells WebMD.

“Both diets are prudent, heart-healthy choices,” she says. “But it’s very hard to maintain a lifestyle intervention without reinforcement, so making regular, repeat visits with a dietitian is important to meeting your goals.”

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology.

Both Diets Low in Fat, Cholesterol

Both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Mediterranean diets call for consuming fewer than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day, with less than 7% of total calories coming from saturated fat. In contrast, the average American consumes twice that much fat, Tuttle says.

In the study, people assigned to the AHA diet were advised to keep total fat intake to less than 30% of calories. Those on the Mediterranean diet were allowed to increase their fat intake to 40%, “the difference coming from healthier monounsaturated fats, with a special emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids,” Tuttle says.

In fact, the Mediterranean dieters ate omega-rich fish three to five times per week; their diet was also high in olive oil, nuts, and avocados, she says.

The AHA low-fat diet put an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, with moderate intake of lean meats like chicken. People in this group were told to stay away from saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods like butter, cream, and fatty red meats.

Dietary Counseling Key

Dieters in both groups had frequent one-on-one meetings with a dietitian -- two the first month and then every three to six months after that. Additionally, they attended at least six group counseling sessions.

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