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Updated 01 October 2020

Study recommends combo of Mediterranean diet and intermittent fasting for the heart

A plant-rich diet with seafood, extra virgin olive oil and fermented dairy offers many health benefits, and intermittent fasting could enhance it.

  • A plant-rich diet with seafood, extra virgin olive oil and fermented dairy has many health benefits
  • Studies show this is better than vegetarian, vegan and meat-heavy diets 
  • Combining this diet with intermittent fasting may enhance its heart benefits

In a world where overconsumption of meat and processed foods has become a serious health threat, many have turned to simpler diets rich in plant-food with less red meat.

One of these popular diets is the Pesco-Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, seafood and a variety of vegetables. Another popular way of eating is intermittent fasting where adherents only eat during a certain period of the day, technically fasting for 12 to 16 hours a day. Apart from other benefits, this can also help you lose weight.

But what if you combined the two?

READ | The Eurocentricity of diets: How to incorporate culture into healthy eating 

Best diet

A review of literature, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, looked at a hypothetical diet as part of a healthy lifestyle that could be beneficial for heart health.

Research has shown that plant-based diets are better for cardiovascular health in societies that eat too much meat, but a complete vegan diet has other drawbacks and nutritional deficits due to the lack of animal protein. The vitamins specifically lacking are B12 and vitamin D, which come solely from animal products, forcing one to take supplements.

"Thus, although many individuals will benefit from a reduction in the consumption of meat, especially processed meat, modest amounts of wholesome animal-based foods such as fish and fermented dairy products continue to play an essential role in the ideal diet," write the authors.

More vegetables, less red meat

This is where the Pesco-Mediterranean diet comes into play. The basis of the diet is vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, extra-virgin olive oil with seafood (not fried) and fermented dairy products. You can only drink water, coffee or tea, although, if you want alcohol, they advise only one glass of red wine a day.

The diet is inspired by the Mediterranean people, who also incorporate intermittent fasting into their traditional eating habits. Studies have proven many times that their diet can reduce all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality, as well as ailments like coronary heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and overall cancer mortality.

Compared to vegetarians, pescatarian and lacto-ovo-vegetarians reduced coronary artery disease mortality by 34% compared to regular meat-eaters, while it decreased by less than 25% in vegans and occasional meat-eaters.

"However, selection bias and confounding, which may be accounting for some of these findings, are pervasive issues in diet-health studies and may undermine the validity of some findings," warn the authors.

READ | Is healthy 'Mediterranean diet' good for your microbiome? 

Fish, dairy, pasta and eggs

Fish also has many heart benefits and is a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, but it's important to choose low-mercury fish. Health boards around the world promote it as the ideal diet for its health benefits. 

Dairy products are also important for protein, minerals, probiotics and vitamin D.

"Although there is no clear consensus among nutrition experts on the role of dairy products in CVD risk, they are allowed in this Pesco-Mediterranean diet. Fermented low-fat versions, such as yoghurt, kefir, and soft cheeses, are preferred; butter and hard cheese are discouraged, because they are high in saturated fats and salt."

They also allow eggs in the diet, although no more than five a week. In terms of pasta, pizza and rice, the authors note that these are fine as long as they are prepared at home and in the traditional Mediterranean way.

READ MORE | Happy Heart, Happy Ocean: Five reasons to choose sustainable seafood

Intermittent fasting benefits

Then there's intermittent fasting, which has grown in popularity, which can help you lose weight, decrease intra-abdominal adipose tissue and reduce free-radical production.

"Unlike modern humans, our ancient ancestors did not have access to an unlimited supply of food throughout the year. Nor did they routinely eat three large meals plus snacks on a daily basis.

"Instead, they were typically engaged in a daily struggle to hunt and gather food, often in harsh milieus with sparse resources and seasonal scarcity. These environmental challenges were the grist for the evolutionary mill, whereby Homo Sapiens became genetically adapted to respond to intermittent fasting by becoming more resistant to stress."

In this proposed diet, you can eat between 09:00 and 18:00, fasting for the rest of the time. During these hours, the body uses up the available energy resources and starts accessing fatty acids from adipose cells for fuel. It can also lower blood pressure and resting heart rate.

"However, the evidence regarding time-restricted eating remains preliminary, mostly based on animal models and observational human studies," the authors add.

There are also some instances where intermittent fasting won't work for everyone, i.e. if you're recovering from an eating disorder, doing an intense training programme, have diabetes and if you're pregnant.

While this proposed diet requires more study, it might be a good proposition for someone with a high risk of heart disease.

READ | 10 Health benefits of intermittent fasting diets 

Image credit: Pixabay

 
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