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Study finds Mediterranean diet linked with lower risk of heart disease among young U.S. workers

The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) reports that the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease among a sizable group of Midwestern firefighters. The study is the first to examine the impacts of a Mediterranean-style diet among a group of young U.S. workers.

“Our study adds more evidence showing the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, even after adjusting for exercise and body weight,” noted Stefanos Kales, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health at HSPH and chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA).

According to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating plan focused on typical food and recipes of Mediterranean-style cooking. Key components of the Mediterranean diet include consuming mainly plant-based food, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Using olive oil instead of butter. Flavoring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt. Reducing red meat consumption to no more than a few times a month and consuming fish and poultry at least twice a week. Plus, there’s the option of imbibing red wine in moderation.

According to HSPH, U.S. firefighters are known to have a high prevalence of obesity and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. A Mediterranean diet has been demonstrated in earlier research to reduce the risk of CVD. However, this research has mostly been done among older people, as well as among Mediterranean populations.

The researchers studied data, including dietary habits, from a group of 780 Midwestern firefighters. They put together a modified Mediterranean diet score (mMDS) to determine the participants’ dietary patterns.

They discovered that the firefighter group with the highest mMDS demonstrated a 35 percent decreased risk in metabolic syndrome. The group with highest mMDS also had a 43 percent lower risk of weight gain compared with the firefighter group with the lowest mMDS.

According to the researchers, the study reveals that advocating for Mediterranean-style diets could have major health benefits for young U.S. workers.

“The logical next steps from our investigation are studies using the workplace to specifically promote Mediterranean dietary habits among firefighters and other U.S. workers,” posited lead author Justin Yang, a post-doctoral fellow at HSPH.

The study’s findings are described in greater detail in the journal PLOS ONE.