Mediterranean diet and its impact on disease

My hard working, over-achieving father died in June 2013 following a terrible stroke in November 2011. It was painful to watch him struggle from a wheelchair into a recliner. Sitting was something Dad just didn’t do. His inability to walk crippled not only his body but ultimately his desire to live. However, Dad left my siblings and me a wonderful legacy to work hard and always do our best.

He also left us something we didn’t want — a greater risk for having a stroke. We know genetics and family history play a role in whether my brother, sister and I will follow in Dad’s footsteps. So what can we do? A new study shows we can lower our stroke risk by making fairly small changes in our diet. 

In August 2013 a study published in the journal “Diabetes Care” found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet could lower their risk for diabetes and stroke. A Mediterranean diet consists of eating mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and healthy fats (like olive oil), along with fish and moderate amounts of poultry and dairy. The study looked at people who ate a Mediterranean diet that largely incorporated olive oil and nuts, which are linked to a lower risk of stroke in older people whose genetic makeup boosts their risk for diabetes and stroke. 

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the health benefits of this type of diet. A Mediterranean diet traditionally was thought to help those in Greece, Spain and southern Italy lower their rates of heart disease and cancer.

The study in “Diabetes Care” followed more than 7,000 people ages 55 to 80 with a genetic variant that made them susceptible to Type 2 diabetes, metabolic issues and stroke over a five-year period. The conclusion? Those with the genetic risk for diabetes and stroke who adhered to a Mediterranean diet were no more likely to have a stroke than those without the genetic risk.

Dad was an old country boy who probably never heard about a Mediterranean diet, but I’m sure his active lifestyle helped him stay healthy well into his golden years. My goal is to be like him, but perhaps by making changes in what I eat — substituting olive oil for bacon grease and almonds instead of a package of snack cakes — I might live a little longer and a little healthier.

–Jackie Hays

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