What Are the Health Benefits of Wheatgrass?

Wheatgrass is a grass that is closely related to wheat. It is a thick, dry grass that looks like hay or straw. It has played a role in natural and holistic medicine for generations.

Wheatgrass is harvested early in its development before it reaches full size — usually 7-10 days after sprouting. Grown primarily to make hay, or for animals to graze, wheatgrass may also offer several health benefits.

Wheatgrass is sometimes called “green blood” because it contains high levels of chlorophyll that gives wheatgrass products an unusual green hue.

Fast facts on wheatgrass:

  • Wheatgrass first became popular in the United States in the 1930s.
  • Wheatgrass must be processed before being consumed.
  • Some studies suggest that wheatgrass can improve health.
  • There is no evidence that wheatgrass poses health risks unless a person is allergic to it.

What is wheatgrass?

wheatgrass and wheatgrass drink

Wheatgrass has a number of health benefits and first became popular in the United States in the 1930s.

In the 1930s, agricultural chemist Charles F. Schnabel used young grasses to try to save dying chickens. The chickens survived and produced more eggs than other hens.

Quaker Oats and other companies began funding research into the benefits, and soon wheatgrass supplements, juices, and powders were widely available. Proponents of wheatgrass say that it is dense in plant nutrients that can improve health and offer supplemental nutrition.

When people consume the raw grass, they usually do so as part of a juice. Powdered wheatgrass is also available in capsules, liquid suspensions, or as a powder to add to smoothies.

Benefits of wheatgrass

Some of the benefits of wheatgrass include:

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

Wheatgrass can be used to help relieve stomach pain and improve symptoms of other gastrointestinal problems.

Some studies have shown that wheatgrass acts as an antioxidant because of it contains vitamins A, C, and E.

Antioxidants reverse the effects of free radicals. These volatile compounds in the body have links to aging and other health issues, including cancer. Antioxidants help fight chronic inflammation, which occurs when the immune system reacts to particular health issues, such as arthritis, stomach problems, skin issues. Antioxidants might even help with mental health concerns, such as depression.

Many health benefits of wheatgrass may be due to its role as an antioxidant. So it may offer benefits similar to many other plant-based foods.

Cancer prevention and treatment

Like other antioxidants, wheatgrass may help prevent cancer. It could also supplement traditional cancer treatments. A 2017 study found that wheatgrass could slow the growth of oral cancer.

Other studies have reached similar conclusions. A 2015 study, for example, found that wheatgrass slowed the growth of colon cancer and caused some cancer cells to die.

Wheatgrass may also improve the effects of chemotherapy. One study has found wheatgrass can reduce side effects associated with chemotherapy.

Fighting infections

Some research has found that wheatgrass can kill or slow the growth of certain infections. This can be especially helpful in the treatment of infections that are resistant to antibiotics, or in people who are allergic to specific antibiotics.

2015 study carried out in a test tube found that wheatgrass has antimicrobial properties that can fight certain types of strep infections, as well as some forms of a bacteria called LactobacillusLactobacillus bacteria play a role in many infections, including dental infections.

Treating gastrointestinal distress

Practitioners of traditional medicine have long used wheatgrass to reduce stomach pain and manage minor gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea.

The purported gastrointestinal benefits of wheatgrass may be partially due to its fiber content. Wheatgrass is gluten-free, making it a good option for people with gluten intolerance.

Some research suggests that wheatgrass may be particularly useful in treating ulcerative colitis. Compared to a placebo, wheatgrass appears to reduce pain and other symptoms in some people.

For people who do not see improvements using traditional medications, wheatgrass might be an alternative remedy.

Preventing and treating diabetes

Research has found that wheatgrass may benefit those with diabetes. A 2014 study on rats, for example, found that wheatgrass could raise insulin levels, helping to lower blood glucose. By fighting inflammation, wheatgrass may also help reduce the side effects of diabetes.

Preliminary research points to the power of wheatgrass to fight obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes and can intensify the adverse health effects of diabetes.

Nutritional breakdown

In addition to the health benefits, wheatgrass offers a number of nutrients that are essential as part of a balanced diet.

Though low in calories, wheatgrass is a good source of protein. It is not, however, a complete protein. Like most plant-based foods, wheatgrass is an excellent source of fiber, which can help reduce blood glucose. Wheatgrass can also support healthy digestion and help people feel full for longer than they usually would.

Wheatgrass is a good source of vitamins A, C, E, and K, and of vitamin B6, zinc, iron, selenium, and manganese.

Risks

People who are allergic to other grasses may also be allergic to wheatgrass. Likewise, due to cross-contamination and cross-pollination, it is possible for wheatgrass to contain the pollen of other plants.

People with plant allergies should consult a doctor before trying wheatgrass.

Side effects

Some people experience nausea or constipation after consuming wheatgrass, perhaps due to its high fiber content. People with a history of constipation should talk to a doctor before trying wheatgrass.

Sometimes, the raw form of wheatgrass is contaminated by mold or bacteria. If preparing wheatgrass at home, wash it thoroughly to remove contaminants before using.

When consuming wheatgrass supplements, buy only from a trusted source. Consider contacting the manufacturer to ask what steps it takes to reduce the risk of contamination.

Wheatgrass taste and ideas for consumption

Wheatgrass tastes like grass, and it can overpower other flavors.

How to make it taste better

Mixing raw wheatgrass in a smoothie can still produce a drink that tastes like something out of a lawnmower. But combining wheatgrass with other ingredients that have a strong taste, such as pineapple or citrus fruit, can help balance the flavor.

Ways to consume wheatgrass

vegetable and fruit juices

Including citrus fruit or pineapple in a wheatgrass drink can help to improve the taste.

Some people prefer to take powdered wheatgrass in capsule form. This almost eliminates the taste and can make it easier to get a daily dose of the grass.

A few wheatgrass supplement manufacturers offer flavored wheatgrass capsules or tablets that include citrus fruits or other dominant flavors.

For people who prefer not to experiment with smoothie or juice recipes, these may offer a tasty solution.

Also,

Many studies on the benefits of wheatgrass have produced promising results but have not been well designed. This means it is not possible to know for sure whether wheatgrass can treat or prevent any specific medical condition.

Because most people tolerate wheatgrass well, it is safe to use alongside other treatments. Nobody should take wheatgrass as a substitute for medical treatment. To test the benefits of wheatgrass, try a daily wheatgrass smoothie or supplement.

As research evolves, it may become clear that wheatgrass is an effective medical treatment for other medical conditions. For now, however, the research is inconclusive.

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Managing Diabetes Through Diet

Diabetes is a widespread state wherein the intensity of glucose present in the circulatory is permanently excessive than in normal conditions. The disease is among the six main reasons for death in America and is accountable for over 180,000 bereavements in the continent every year. Researchers have found that people suffering from diabetes are two to four times more prone to die owing to stroke or heart ailments than those free from the ailment. Apart from death, diabetes often leads to kidney disorders, ailments related to the nervous system, amputation, and even impotence labeling this as one of the most pitiless diseases.

When a person is affected by diabetes, the oxidant resistance system of the individual becomes weak. According to several types of research on diabetes, the LDL or bad cholesterol is more disposed to oxidation in this ailment. However, it has been found that the blood of the diabetes patients contains more detrimental substances that are the fall-out of oxidation of fats in the body. The weak oxidant resistance system of the body owing to diabetes leads to the formation of free radicals which are associated with most of the complications in this ailment. The complications or disorders owing to diabetes include heart ailment, stroke or cardiac arrest, diabetic retinopathy (a disease of the retina caused by diabetes), cataracts and destruction of the nerves.

Following numerous researchers, scientists are now able to comprehend the manner in which diabetes leads to uncontrolled harm to the arteries and veins in our circulatory system. It has been found that the process of accrual of glucose in the blood called hyperglycemia stimulates an enzyme known as Kinase C or PKC into an extra hard level of activity. The PKC not only sends signals to the genes (the basic units of hereditary) and encouraging the cells to develop as well as divide quickly, but also sets off a sequence of reactions that alters the suppleness of the veins and arteries. As a consequence, the hardened or less flexible arteries are disposed to breaking up.

It has also been found during the researchers that PKC also obstructs the small arteries supplying blood to the eyes and this often leads to the disintegration of the arteries causing blindness. On the other hand, rupture of the arteries in the brain can also lead to cardiac arrest or strokes. In the instance of the kidneys, damaging arteries often lead to nephropathy or a disease of the kidney. What is worse is that the blockade or log jam of the larger arteries may result in heart disorders and even malnourish the tissues to fatality. In such conditions, the organ of the body may require amputation.

Medicinal Food and Plants Play A Role:

Various studies have demonstrated that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are crucial to curing diabetes. Omega-3 and omega-6 aid in decreasing oxidation of LDL also known as bad cholesterol, counteract free radicals and fill up the nutritional voids that are frequently associated with diabetes. Filling the nutritional voids can be achieved by controlling and exploiting the gifts of nature. In fact, the use of medicinal plants has a crucial role in this regard.

Purslane, a herbaceous or a plant without a woody stem that grows each year, has fleshy and juicy leaves that enclose the highest concentration of fatty acids ever found in any green leafy plants. Incidentally, this inconspicuous plant also often described as a ‘garden weed’ is rich in nourishing substances that may be of great help in controlling diabetes. Chemical analysis of purslane has revealed that the herb contains tocopherols (both the alpha, gamma, and delta) that are believed to be potent antioxidants. In addition, purslane also encloses substantial amounts of vitamins C, A and E and a wide variety of essential minerals such as zinc, glutathione calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, silicon, and manganese. It may be mentioned here that anti-oxid glutathione and vitamins A, C and E are valuable for treating diabetes as they help in thwarting the inflammatory enzyme PKC from going into additional level of activity or overdrive.

Antioxidant Benefits:

Antioxidants are of immense remedial value to the diabetes patients. While it has already been mentioned that antioxidants prevent the PKC enzyme from going into hyper activity causing harm to the blood vessels, they also lessen the oxidation of LDL or bad cholesterol that is a primary predicament for diabetes patients. In addition, antioxidants put off platelets from being sticky and also accumulating to form patches on the skin. Most importantly, the antioxidants also help in thwarting blood clots in the circulatory system and consequently save life.

The insulin requirements in type 2 diabetes patients may be lessened considerably by taking the right food and food supplements. Several researches conducted over the years have shown that purslane lessens the quantity of insulin requirement of the diabetics. If any of you or anyone close to you is suffering from diabetes, be prepared to combat the disease with any natural medication. This is because herbal medicines as well as organic food are best to cure the disorder. At the same time, bear in mind the right diet forms the most important aspect of curing diabetes. Another important thing to remember is that a diabetic patient should never stop taking insulin without the advice of his family physician. Stopping the insulin doses may often prove to be fatal for diabetic patients.

Grains Explained, Is Rice Gluten-Free?

Gluten is a family of proteins found in some, but not all, grains. For many people, a gluten-free diet can be a lifestyle choice. However, for people with celiac disease, it is a medical necessity.

Gluten has become a controversial subject. On the one hand, many researchers agree that gluten is safe for everyone except those with celiac disease. On the contrary, some experts suggest that gluten could be harmful to most people.

Gluten is found in barley, wheat, rye, and triticale, which is a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods, such as bread, pasta, and cereal, keep their shape by acting as a “glue.”

There are several gluten-free grains available that can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. Is rice one of them?

Is rice gluten-free?

Rice
All rice is naturally gluten-free. However, grains or rice-based products may not be gluten-free.

Rice is a grain. Are all grains gluten-free? No. Is rice gluten-free? Yes.

All rice is naturally gluten-free. This includes all varieties: white rice, brown rice, and wild rice. Even glutinous rice is gluten-free, despite the name. “Glutinous” refers to the sticky nature of the rice and not the glue-like gluten protein in wheat, barley, and rye.

Many gluten-free products substitute wheat with rice. However, while all rice in its natural form is gluten-free, that does not mean that all rice and rice-based products are gluten-free.

If in doubt, people should check the label on the packaging or contact the manufacturer for more information.

Cross-contact

Rice can sometimes come into contact with barley, wheat, or rye in the growing, harvesting, or manufacturing processes — this is called cross-contact, previously known as cross-contamination.

Cross-contact of rice and gluten can also occur at home in places where shared utensils and cooking areas are used for preparing both gluten-free foods and foods containing gluten. These places include:

  • colanders
  • shared containers
  • condiments

Wheat flour can also stay airborne for many hours and contaminate surfaces, utensils, and uncovered foods.

Thorough cleaning usually prevents cross-contact.

People should beware of gluten-free goods from bakeries that sell foods containing gluten, and bulk bins at grocery stores.

If a person has celiac disease and they are unable to confirm the ingredients in a food item, it is best to avoid eating the food.

For people with gluten-related disorders, cutting out foods that contain gluten from their diet is the only known way to prevent damage to the lining of the intestines and other associated symptoms.

Rice-based products

Just because a rice-based product is advertised as “rice” does not mean that it is gluten-free. Rice-based products are often made with spices, sauces, and other ingredients that may contain gluten.

Flavored rice frequently contains a wheat-based thickener called hydrolyzed wheat protein. Flavored rice may also contain flavor enhancers such as soy sauce, which is not typically gluten-free but can be substituted with tamari. Rice pilaf is made with orzo, which is also not gluten-free.

People with gluten-related disorders should only eat rice-based products that are labeled with “gluten-free.” They should avoid products that are labeled with “contains wheat,” or list any ingredients that contain gluten.

People should also avoid products that are grain-based or made on shared equipment with wheat or gluten. Just because a product is “wheat-free,” does not mean that it is automatically gluten-free.

Is rice a safe gluten-free alternative?

healthful foods
Eating a range of healthful foods is recommended, especially when removing gluten from the diet.

Starchy foods are a major source of carbohydrates and play an important part in a healthful diet. As with any food group, it is essential that people include a variety of carbohydrates in their diet to ensure that they consume a wide range of nutrients.

A person on a gluten-free diet, who bulks up with rice and rice-based products, particularly white rice, can deprive their body of important nutrients.

Many products that are made with wheat flour are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Often, by cutting out wheat or not eating a variety of grains, people can be left short of:

  • calcium
  • fiber
  • folate
  • iron
  • niacin
  • riboflavin
  • thiamin

When removing gluten from their diet, people should be sure to eat a range of healthful foods, including plenty of whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

Arsenic found in rice

There are two types of arsenic. The first type, organic arsenic, is relatively nontoxic. However, the second type, called inorganic arsenic, is more toxic.

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), rice tends to accumulate more arsenic than other food crops. In fact, rice is thought to be the largest food source of inorganic arsenic.

The level of arsenic in the diet is usually relatively low and does not often cause symptoms of poisoning. However, ingesting inorganic arsenic over a long period may make a person more likely to develop chronic diseases, which include:

  • blockage or narrowing of blood vessels
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • various types of cancer

As arsenic is toxic to nerve cells, it may affect brain function. In children and teenagers, exposure to arsenic may impair concentration, learning, and memory, and reduce intelligence and social skills.

Arsenic may cause health problems in people who eat significant amounts of rice and rice-based products daily.

Going gluten-free does not mean that a person’s diet has to be dominated by rice. People should include a range of different foods in their diet to ensure they take in a variety of nutrients. This also prevents people getting too much of one food — in this case, too much arsenic.

Nutritional facts

Rice is mostly composed of carbohydrates, with a small amount of protein and almost no fat.

Brown rice

Brown or whole grain rice is a good source of fiber and contains many vitamins and minerals in the bran and germ. It may also be a good source of the antioxidants phytic acid, ferulic acid, and lignans.

Eating brown rice and other whole grains may have a beneficial effect on heart health. Brown rice is considered a low-glycemic food and may help control blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes.

Brown rice may help regulate bowel function and may also be helpful in preventing cancers, such as colon cancer, leukemia, and breast cancer.

White rice

White rice is a product of brown rice. It is made by removing the bran and the germ of the brown rice through the process of milling. This is done to increase its shelf life and tastiness.

However, milling strips the rice of valuable nutrients, such as dietary fiber, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, iron, and other nutrients.

White rice may cause a spike in blood sugar levels, which can be unhealthy for people with diabetes.

Apart from providing basic nutrients and energy, white rice has no real benefit to health.

Wild rice

Wild rice is not actually rice. Despite being called rice, wild rice describes the grain that is harvested from four species of grass.

Wild rice is higher in protein, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber than white rice, and is low in fat. Wild rice is a good source of B vitamins.

Incorporating wild rice into the diet may provide the following health benefits:

  • help protect heart health
  • aid digestive processes
  • boost the immune system with vitamin C
  • lower the chances of certain conditions, such as cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, and some cancers

Alternative grains and carbohydrates

Rice is not the only gluten-free source of grain. There are many gluten-free grains, starches, and other foods that can be eaten as part of a healthy balanced diet.

These include:

Quinoa
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a popular alternative to rice that is also gluten-free.
  • amaranth
  • arrowroot
  • beans
  • buckwheat groats
  • cassava
  • chia
  • flax
  • maize
  • millet
  • nut flours
  • gluten-free oats
  • potato
  • quinoa
  • sorghum
  • soy
  • tapioca
  • teff
  • yucca

Some of the lesser-known grain varieties may need to be purchased from a health food store.

Gluten-containing grains to avoid

The following grains and their derivatives contain gluten and should be avoided by people with gluten-related disorders:

  • barley
  • brewer’s yeast
  • durum
  • einkorn wheat
  • emmer
  • farina
  • farro
  • graham
  • KAMUT Khorasan wheat
  • malt
  • rye
  • semolina
  • spelt
  • triticale
  • wheat
  • wheatberries

Wheat starch contains gluten. However, some wheat starch is processed to remove gluten.

According to the FDA, a food containing wheat starch may only be labeled as “gluten-free” if the product is processed to have below 20 parts per million of gluten.

Bottom line

All forms of natural rice are gluten-free and some forms of rice-based products are also gluten-free. People should always make sure to check the labels on any products to ensure the food is gluten-free and has not come into contact with foods that contain gluten.

Eating a variety of grains and high-fiber carbohydrates as part of a gluten-free diet, rather than relying just on rice, can help prevent health concerns associated with arsenic and ensure a diet filled with a balance of nutrients.

Is Shrimp High in Cholesterol? Nutritional and Heart Health Information

Eating shrimp as part of a balanced diet is not only safe but can offer a person several key nutrients.

Doctors previously recommended against eating shrimp as part of a heart-healthy diet, citing the high levels of cholesterol.

However, after years of research and a better understanding of what contributes to heart disease and higher cholesterol, scientists now consider eating shrimp to be an excellent addition to a well-rounded diet.

Is shrimp high in cholesterol?

shrimp prawn on a grill
Shrimp may be eaten as part of a balanced diet, and the way it is prepared is key to its effect on cholesterol.

One serving of shrimp contains 189 milligrams of cholesterol, which translates to roughly 60 percent of the total recommended amount of cholesterol per day.

This high level of cholesterol was the reason why doctors used to believe that shrimp was bad for heart health.

It was thought that shrimp would increase levels of LDL, or “bad cholesterol” in people, but it is now known that is not the case.

Shrimp can actually increase the levels of HDL, or “good cholesterol” thereby supporting heart health.

Are they safe to eat for people with high cholesterol?

Shrimp are now generally considered safe for people with high cholesterol to eat. They contain a number of useful nutrients.

Despite the higher cholesterol levels, shrimp contain minimal saturated fat and no trans fat. Both trans and saturated fat are considered factors to increasing bad cholesterol.

As part of a balanced diet, shrimp can be a good addition. People on a strict diet set by a doctor or dietitian should ask their provider before including shrimp.

Things to consider when eating shrimp

What is more damaging to cholesterol and a heart-healthy diet is not the shrimp so much as the way it is prepared.

Here are some general tips and suggestions for preparing shrimp to be as heart-healthy and low in cholesterol as possible:

Do:

  • bake, boil, grill, or cook with little to no oil
  • season with spices, garlic, and herbs
  • add lemon juice

Don’t:

  • fry, sauté in butter or oil
  • serve in a creamy or buttery sauce
  • add unnecessary salt when cooking and eating
  • serve with over-processed carbohydrates such as white pasta

Check the bag, box, or with the seafood department as to where the shrimp were caught or raised. Shrimp from farms in other countries often have higher levels of pollutants because of the unregulated farming practices.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell whether or not the shrimp being sold comes from a safe farming practice or even if it was caught in the wild. Both farmed and wild-caught shrimp run a risk of containing pollutants, so look for the labels, “sustainably farmed” or “MSC-certified” that indicate better choices.

One last consideration for consuming shrimp is that it is a known allergen to some people. Shrimp are shellfish, so people allergic to shellfish should avoid eating them.

Nutritional information for shrimp

shrimp prawn in the shape of a heart
Shrimp are low in calories, high in protein, and a great source of selenium and B12.

Shrimp, like most seafood, offers a variety of nutrients that are recommended in any diet.

Shrimp are naturally low in calories, offering less than 100 calories per serving. Additionally, shrimp are low in fat and high in protein.

Some additional benefits of shrimp include:

  • Excellent source of selenium, an antioxidant that helps reduce the free radicals often responsible for premature aging and disease.
  • Great source of vitamin B12 that helps with red blood cell creation among other benefits.
  • Good source of phosphorus that is essential for removing waste and repairing tissues and cells.
  • Provides choline, copper, and iodine to the diet, which are all necessary to the body’s functions.
  • Also provides astaxanthin, an antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation and fight signs of aging.

How do they compare with other forms of seafood?

Seafood is getting a lot of praise lately from doctors and dietitians who recommend adding seafood regularly to a balanced diet. Shrimp, like a lot of shellfish and other food sources found in the sea, are high in cholesterol. This does not mean that they are necessarily dangerous for people to consume regularly, however.

Other popular seafood options may offer less cholesterol and similar health benefits. Here are a few other seafood sources and how they compare to shrimp.

Crab

Crab meat, like most seafood, is high in protein and is low in fat and calories. Crab contains less cholesterol and contains an assortment of vitamins.

However, unlike shrimp, crab is naturally higher in sodium levels. This makes it a bit of a challenge for people with high blood pressure.

Lobster

One of the pricier alternatives to shrimp is lobster. This shellfish has a slightly higher level of cholesterol than shrimp. However, like shrimp, lobster is also low calorie, low in saturated fat, high in omega-3 and selenium, and has about 24 grams of protein in a single serving.

salmon
Although salmon may have a higher fat content than shrimp, it has less cholesterol per serving.

Salmon

Salmon is rich in heart-healthy omega-3. Salmon also has a higher fat content than either lobster or shrimp. Salmon has less cholesterol per serving than shrimp.

A serving of salmon is also high in protein and filled with B vitamins, which boost energy and support metabolism and a healthy nervous system.

Additionally, salmon is an excellent source of potassium and phosphorus, a nutrient that helps bone development. Potassium helps regulate the heart and blood pressure. For the most nutrients, look for wild salmon.

Oysters, clams, and mussels

This group of seafood is packed full of nutrients such as iron, zinc, B12, phosphorus, niacin, and selenium. Clams both boost good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol.

Though shrimp is high in cholesterol, it is still considered a good choice for anyone, even those concerned about their heart health.

People on strict diets should talk with their doctor before adding shrimp into their diets.

All people should consider the potential risks of purchasing farm-raised shrimp that may contain more pollutants than fresh-caught shrimp.

In moderation, shrimp consumption for the average person can add many nutrients essential to the human body.

Mediterranean Diet Enriched with Virgin Olive Oil May Protect the Heart

Forget chocolates and roses this Valentine’s day. Instead, cook up a Mediterranean-inspired meal with lashings of virgin olive oil to win and protect your lover’s, heart. New research reports that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may boost the cardioprotective effects of “good” cholesterol.
[Sandwich with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula]
Consuming a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may protect the heart.

Montserrat Fitó, Ph.D., was the senior author of the new research and coordinator of the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain, as well as the Ciber of Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition, also in Spain. Fitó and team’s findings were published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

There are two types of molecules called lipoproteins that carry cholesterol in the blood: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol, since having high levels of LDL can bring about plaque buildup in the arteries, which can result in heart disease and stroke. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol; HDL absorbs cholesterol and carries it to the liver where it is flushed from the body. Having high levels of HDL reduces heart disease and stroke.

Mediterranean diets compared with healthy control diet

A growing body of evidence supports the theory that the Mediterranean diet protects against the development of heart disease. Studies have also shown that the Mediterranean diet improves the lipid profile of HDLs.

“However, studies have shown that HDL doesn’t work as well in people at high risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases and that the functional ability of HDL matters as much as its quantity,” explains Fitó. “At the same time, small-scale trials have shown that consuming antioxidant-rich foods like virgin olive oil, tomatoes, and berries improved HDL function in humans. We wanted to test those findings in a larger, controlled study,” she adds.

The research team aimed to determine whether eating a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil or nuts over a long period of time would improve the beneficial properties of HDL in humans.

Fitó and collaborators randomly selected a total of 296 individuals who had a high risk of heart disease and were participating in the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea study. The participants had an average age of 66 and were assigned to one of three diets for a year.

The first diet was a traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with around 4 tablespoons of virgin olive oil per day. The second, a traditional Mediterranean diet supplemented with a fistful of nuts each day. The third diet was a healthful “control” diet that contained a reduced amount of red meat, high-fat dairy products, processed foods, and sweets.

Both Mediterranean diets emphasized the inclusion of fruit, vegetables, legumes (such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, and whole grains), and moderate amounts of fish and poultry.

Blood tests were conducted at the start and end of the study to measure LDL and HDL levels.

Virgin olive oil-enriched Mediterranean diet enhanced HDL function

The researchers found that total and LDL cholesterol levels were only reduced in the healthful control diet. While none of the three diets significantly increased HDL levels, the two Mediterranean diets improved HDL function, and the improvement was more pronounced in the group enriched with virgin olive oil.

The Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil improved HDL functions, such as reversing cholesterol transport, providing antioxidant protection, and enabling vasodilation.

Reverse cholesterol transport is the process in which HDL removes cholesterol from plaque in the arteries and takes it to the liver. Antioxidant protection is the ability of HDL to counteract the oxidation of LDL. Oxidation of LDL triggers the development of plaque in the arteries.

Lastly, vasodilator capacity – which relaxes the blood vessels, keeps them open, and keeps the blood flowing – is improved by the Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil.

Although the control diet was rich in fruits and vegetables like the two Mediterranean diets, the diet was shown to have an adverse impact on HDL’s anti-inflammatory properties. This negative impact was not observed in the Mediterranean diets. A reduction in HDL’s anti-inflammatory capacity is linked with a greater risk of heart disease.

As expected, the researchers only found slight differences in results between the diets, because the variation between the two Mediterranean diets was modest, and the control diet was healthful.

“Following a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil could protect our cardiovascular health in several ways, including making our ‘good cholesterol’ work in a more complete way.”

Montserrat Fitó

This research could contribute to the development of novel therapeutic targets, such as new antioxidant-rich foods, nutraceuticals, or new drug families that may improve HDL function, conclude the study authors.