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Researchers Identify Combination That May Play Key Role in Mediterranean Diet Health Benefits

Numerous studies have found that the Mediterranean Diet – which contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains but low levels of meats and saturated fats – is good for your health. A recent animal study suggests that this may be at least partially due to the interaction between the unsaturated fats found in olive oil and the high nitrite levels in the vegetables.

The researchers believed that a combination of the unsaturated fats and the nitrite would result in the formation of nitro fatty acids. Nitro fatty acids help relax blood vessels and bring down blood pressure.

To test their theory, the researchers used mice with high blood pressure and mice that were genetically engineered to be resistant to effects of the nitro fatty acids. For 5 days, all of the mice were fed the omega-6 fatty acids found in olive oil and sodium nitrite, to mimic the pairing of olive oil and veggies in the Mediterranean Diet.

At the end of the 5 day period, mice with high blood pressure had lower blood pressure and higher nitro fatty acid levels. The blood pressure of the mice resistant to the effects of the nitro fatty acids did not change.

The researchers concluded that the nitro fatty acids created by the combination of unsaturated fatty acids and nitrates are at least partially responsible for the health benefits found in the Med Diet.

Researchers from King’s College in London conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print on May 19, 2014, in PNAS.

Previous research has shown that the Mediterranean diet may improve heart health, lower the risk of diabetes, asthma, lower rates of obesity and even decrease the overall risk of mortality.

The key components of the Mediterranean diet are eating primarily plant-based foods, replacing butter with olive oil, using herbs and spices instead of salt, eating red meat no more than a few times a month, eating fish and poultry at least twice a week.

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