Rev. Dan Gobble: Success With Naturally Slim


This is a guest post by Rev. Dan Gobble, pastor of Providence UMC in Salisbury, NC. It was originally featured in Naturally Slim’s newsletter and is reprinted with permission.  

All Spirited Life participants have had the opportunity to participate in Naturally Slim, and pastors still receiving services (Group 3) will have an final opportunity to enroll in 2014. 

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I recently turned 50 years old. At my annual physical in 2012, my doctor told me, “Dan, it wouldn’t hurt you to go hungry once in a while.” At that time I weighed around 240 pounds. I knew he was right. There is a BMI chart on the wall beside the scales in his office. I knew that, for my height, I was way over my ideal weight, almost in the morbidly obese category. I was frustrated because I wanted to do something about my weight, but I didn’t have confidence in what I knew about weight loss.

Dan collageIn the meantime, my employer, the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church began a program to help clergy better manage their health. Being a pastor is a high stress job, and clergy often have problems dealing with the stress that comes with it. As a result, they often experience weight gain and develop markers for metabolic syndrome like, high blood pressure, high or out of balance cholesterol, and even diabetes, which affect their health and quality life. Since entering the ministry in 2002, I have gained about 45 to 50 pounds. Over the years, my doctor had put me on blood pressure and cholesterol medicine. I was also borderline diabetic. When he told me at my last physical that it wouldn’t hurt me to lose weight, I finally RESOLVED that I would DO something about it. When the church offered the Naturally Slim program as a possible way to help us manage some of our healthcare concerns through weight loss, I jumped at the chance.

I had always been skeptical of diets and weight loss programs because I saw how folks struggled to sustain the results over the long haul. The thing that attracted me to this program was the overall common sense wisdom and the well-organized approach. This program looked like something I could incorporate into my lifestyle by making some “doable” changes. When I tried to lose weight in the past, I had no real success because I had no real understanding of how my body deals with food. Naturally Slim explains how our bodies and food interact and then Naturally Slim gave me a straightforward, workable plan for losing weight that made sense, and which is backed up by nutritional and medical facts. For example, after following the Naturally Slim plan for just a few weeks, I realized that I didn’t need to eat in the morning. I had been a big cereal eater for years, but it was more out of habit than a true need for fuel. Now I have some H-2-Orange in the mornings, plus some coffee, and I can enjoy food when my body needs it later in the day. This cut out a lot of unnecessary food on a daily basis.

Another facet of the program which really helped me lose weight was cutting out the sweets and high sugar foods (especially the constant snacking and grazing on sugary foods). Lowering my food intake, and learning the importance of eating slowly gave me a winning strategy for weight loss. The final component of the program that I found helpful was the pedometer that Naturally Slim sent in the starter package. It made me become more intentional about walking around the neighborhood and working to get a minimum number of steps in each day. As a footnote, I have now walked over 1,000 miles since April of 2013. I’ve always wanted to do more running and jogging. I am happy to say that I can now run a 5K (something that was impossible prior to the weight loss). I also enjoy an active lifestyle, including walking with my wife and our dog, running, and riding my bicycle.

I never really thought I would come close to attaining these results at this point in my life. I thought there was no other option for me but being overweight and in declining health for the rest of my life. But Naturally Slim has helped me reverse some negative trends in my health. At my last physical in June, my doctor took me off blood pressure and cholesterol medicine. I’m at the recommended BMI for my weight & height. I’m wearing the size clothes I wore when I was in my early 20s! I look and feel so much better and I have a much better self-image (I took my shirt off and body surfed the waves at the beach this summer, without being self-conscious about my appearance). My family is really proud of my weight loss. I get asked on a regular basis to reveal my secret. I tell everyone who will listen, “If you’re really interested in losing weight, then you need to check out Naturally Slim”. I’m a believer!


Since Dan started the program in late March of 2013, he has lost 63 pounds.  At that time he weighed 233. He now weighs 170 pounds.  His waist has been reduced 10 inches from 44 inches in March of 2013 down to 34 inches in Oct 2013. He also reports that he is off all medication to control his cholesterol, and all cholesterol numbers have improved to the point that they are better than they were when he took the medication to keep them under control. 

Holiday Challenge


The holidays are just around the corner!  While the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are usually filled with joy and merriment, they can also be filled with extra calories and less time for exercise.

This year, to help you keep your waistline in check (did you know that the average adult gains 1-5 pounds during the holidays and never gets these pounds back off?) consider signing up for the Maintain, Don’t Gain Holiday Challenge.  Sponsored by Eat Smart Move More NC, the Holiday Challenge runs from November 25-December 1 and encourages holiday challengeweight maintenance during the holiday season.  By signing up, you’ll get weekly newsletters with tips and recipes, have access to weight/activity tracking charts, and receive support and motivation from other participants.

Sign up for the Holiday Challenge here.

I signed up for the Holiday Challenge and have already found some great recipes that I hope to try soon.  Check out these: pumpkin spice latte and maple roasted sweet potatoes.

-Katie Huffman

Healthy Autumn Snacks


1291439_10152248326317576_1520576390_nWith mornings here in Durham positively chilly, my cravings have turned toward fall. Being a native New England-er, autumn is my favorite season. I love taking long walks in the woods and finding fall treasures, and I love coming home to cook and bake with fall flavors.  Here are two healthy and tasty recipes to inspire you on this beautiful fall day.  Both of the recipes come from a list of 36 healthy snack recipes for fall from the website Greatist, a great source of holistic health tips. Happy baking (and snacking)!

Healthier Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies by Perry Santanachote

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature (or 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour (or a half white flour, half whole-wheat mix)
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal (optional — if you omit, add an extra 1/2 cup of flour!)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 cup  dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

What to Do: 

  1. Set oven to 300 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, and salt (if using) together in medium size bowl. Set aside.
  3. Mix the sugar and butter together with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 4 or 5 minutes).
  4. Add pumpkin, egg, and vanilla to the sugar and butter and mix at low speed until thoroughly blended. Mixture will look curdled. (Don’t panic.)
  5. Slowly add the dry ingredients at low-medium speed until just combined.
  6. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  7. Use a large cookie scoop (or ice-cream scoop) to form cookies. Space them two inches apart on baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 22-24 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden brown. Let sit for a few minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.Pumpkin-Cookies_PS_604_2
Cranberry Granola by Rachel Ray

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup natural almonds, chopped
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

  1. Toss oats, almonds, syrup, oil and cinnamon together. Spread on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool; stir in cranberries.

Caren Swanson

Images by Caren Swanson (top) and Perry Santanachote.

Questioning the Necessity of Breakfast


3692867013_59a2b2e3a8A new report questions the age-old wisdom that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that it is essential for weight loss. It has long been assumed that folks who eat a healthy breakfast are less hungry throughout the day, thus consuming fewer calories, but it turns out that there is little evidence to substantiate that claim. Furthermore, the breakfast foods that usually ARE consumed (cereals, muffins, bread products) are known to help pack on the pounds. So why the confusion? To eat breakfast or not to eat breakfast?

According to a recent New York Times article, very few studies have been done that look at the correlation between weight loss and breakfast eating, and of those that have been completed, the findings are mixed. There is no question that eating breakfast can be an important part of a healthy day, but is it essential? Probably not. While many Americans have included breakfast as a part of their weight-loss diet, it is unclear whether breakfast-eating itself is a contributor to the weightloss.  As the article explains:

Data from the National Weight Control Registry showed that after their weight loss, about 80 percent of people reported regularly eating breakfast. “There was no difference in reported energy intake between breakfast eaters and non-eaters,” the registry showed, “but breakfast eaters reported slightly more physical activity than non-breakfast eaters.”

The research showed only that eating breakfast was a common behavior among people who were actively trying to avoid regaining weight, just as diet soda might be a common drink of choice among dieters but not necessarily the cause of their weight loss.

4041800875_c26b204e80None of this will be news to anyone who watched even the first video of the Naturally Slim program (the mindful eating program available to all Spirited Life participants). Marcia Upson, the Nurse Practitioner behind the program, insists that instead of eating breakfast out of habit, we should wait until we’re hungry. If we stay hydrated, drinking our “H2Orange,” then we may not be hungry until 10 or even 11 in the morning. We may then decide to instead eat an early lunch, reducing our number of meals consumed to two a day. By paying attention to their bodies’ true hunger cues, many people have successfully lost weight on her program.

All of this is not to imply that you should suddenly STOP eating breakfast. Everyone has different caloric needs, and everyone has different hunger patterns. Perhaps yours kick in first thing in the morning, while your spouse’s don’t kick in until much later. Either way, the best thing to do is listen to your body’s signals, and follow the wisdom that we KNOW is true: eating when we’re not hungry leads to weight gain, and learning to listen to our body’s signals can help us achieve a normal body weight. Maybe it’s time for me to kick my daily bowl of cereal habit!

–Caren Swanson

Images by flickr users *Zoha.Nve and Stephanie Kilgast, via Creative Commons.

Food Journaling 101


Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about food journaling, and I’ve even written a few blog posts about web and smart phone applications that support this habit.  But I never gave it much thought beyond that it’s a helpful weight loss tool, so I wanted to dig a little deeper into the supporting research and rationale.Food_Journal

What is food journaling?  While it sounds pretty straightforward, there are any number of combinations of details you can record in a food journal.  The general idea is to write down everything you eat and drink at meals and in between on a daily basis.  Details to include might be portion size as well as calorie and other nutritional content.  You can also record when, where, and how you were feeling at the time of eating.  Some food journals include space for noting how much physical activity you get each day, too.

Increasing numbers of studies are focusing in on the value of keeping a food journal in conjunction with losing weight.  In a 2012 Northwestern study, which we’ve mentioned on the blog before, people who used a mobile food and activity tracking app alongside of another weight loss program lost an average of 15 pounds (and kept the weight off for a year).  Another 2012 study, associated with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, found that women who kept food records lost six more pounds on average than women who did not.  This study also found that food journaling helped people take weight off more quickly initially and maintain this weight loss for a longer period of time.  In a 2008 study, participants who kept a food journal for at least 6 days a week lost twice as much weight as those who did not.

The main rationales behind food journaling are awareness and accountability.  Knowledge about your habits is the first step in helping you decide what changes you may need to strive for.  You can use food journals to see the nutritional breakdown of your diet… are you getting enough protein?  Fruits and vegetables?  Too much salt?   You can look for patterns… do you get most of your daily calories at a certain meal?  Do you go for something sweet at the same time every day?  Do certain emotions trigger your appetite?  Then, once you set a goal for yourself, you can use the journal to help you stay within these bounds.  Showing your record to someone else, whether it’s a friend, family member, or counselor, only increases the level of accountability the journal provides.

FoodViewThere are many styles of food journals to pick from.  Some people prefer to use pen and paper, while others like to use a web or mobile phone application.  However, studies show that modern technology, which is available to you anytime and anywhere, can contribute to greater adherence and accuracy than paper journals.  Paper templates for food journals can be found through Real Simple, NIH, WebMD, and American Heart Association.  Web and mobile phone apps include: SparkPeople; Lose It!; MyFitness Pal; MyNetDiary; My Plate Calorie Tracker from LiveStrong.

Some final tips for food journaling:

  • Write down your food and beverage intake as you go rather than waiting until the end of the day.
  • Be honest; don’t skip a day or meal that was particularly indulgent.
  • Pick a style of journal (paper vs. digital) that will work for you.
  • Start with fewer details and only be as detailed as will allow you to continue the practice.

With some dedication and consistency, keeping a food journal is one of the most effective ways to make changes in your diet, and it’s certainly one of the cheapest!

–Katie Huffman

(Image by Kirstin Carey of Nourish 123 blog, courtesy of Creative Commons)

Sources: WebMD- Keeping Food Diary; WebMD- Food Journal; Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Proceedings of UCLA Healthcare, Volume 15 (2011) Clinical Vignette; American Heart Association- How to Keep Track of What You Eat; Real Simple- How to Keep a Food Journal; NIH’s Weight Control Information Center; Humana                         Hollis, et al.  Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance TrialAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine 2008; 35(2):118–126.
Kong, et al.  Self-Monitoring and Eating-Related Behaviors Are Associated with 12-Month Weight Loss in Postmenopausal Overweight-to-Obese WomenJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012; 112(9): 1428-1435.

In Due Season We Will Reap


When my friend David Dendy recently started a diet, he reflected on his blog about the parallels between sticking to a healthy eating regimen and the life of Christian discipleship.  Where can we find the inspiration to stay on the path, when the tangible, measurable results we seek are absent or slow to arrive?

I have had a few conversations as of late that have had one central theme… “David, I am tired of always doing the right thing. I don’t see what good it is doing. I always do the right thing. And look where it has gotten me. I want to venture out on my own and do my own thing that feels good and right to me.”

Not only can I sympathize, I can also empathize with my friends. I have been there many times myself and I will find myself in that same place somewhere further down the road. For all I know I might be saying the same thing tomorrow or next month or next year.

Continuing the “diet” theme let me say this… When I do my own thing, when I go out on my own, when I do that which feels good to me with no regard to others… guess what? I get all out of shape. I don’t look good and I don’t feel good and typically I don’t have the energy to be good for other people.

I have never forgotten this great quote from C.S. Lewis – “Discipline before emotion.” (Not that I have always followed that quote, it’s just that I have never forgotten it.)

There’s another favorite quote of mine from the Apostle Paul that has sustained me during those seasons of frustration…

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6. 9-10)

My dear friends… continue to do good!

I met David more than 30 years ago.  We were neighbors in the men’s freshman dorm at Davidson College.  In those days he was a long, lean whippet of a fellow, a smiling assassin at intramural basketball and Ultimate Frisbee.  If David is fighting the battle of the bulge, that makes me feel better about my own issues with diet and exercise!

I don’t think David is familiar with the Clergy Health Initiative, but he has lived the life.  His journey has taken him all around the country, through seminary, in and out of parish ministry, through successes and major church conflicts, to his current position as VP of Philanthropy at the University of Dubuque (IA), a Presbyterian-affiliated institution.  He’s certainly had his share of stumbles, falls, and losses, in the years between sowing and reaping.

David has set as a discipline to start a blog and write a post a day for this calendar year.  He has a hard-won wisdom and a gift for expressing how the mundane connects to the transcendent, and how today’s small seeds can lead to an abundant harvest.  He is on Google+ and Facebook as well, if you’re interested in checking him out.  In any case, take courage that you are not alone on this journey.

John James

Photo: Andrew Fogg via Creative Commons

Monday Giveaway #4: The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman


8495570358_b4e01c3fb8_cWe all know that Americans eat too much junk food. But figuring out what to do about it is complicated. Do we ban super-sized sodas? Do we all become vegetarians? Do we eat like the Italians? The Japanese? There are truly thousands of books, articles and websites out there, telling us how to eat more healthfully, but it can be hard to sort through all the conflicting information! Complicating it further: in our information age, much of what we do find seems to assume we either have an unlimited budget, multiple hours available to prepare a meal, or both.

We at the Clergy Health Initiative promote healthy eating choices because we believe that our bodies are gifts from God, which we have been charged with stewarding. We recognize that in our fast-paced culture, making these choices can be difficult, not to mention costly. Many pastors in our Spirited Life wellness program live in remote parts of North Carolina, where there is limited access to sources of fresh food. Despite these challenges, though, we continue to encourage and provide support for healthy eating, because we recognize the connection between mind, body and spirit. When our bodies feel well-nourished and cared for, we have more energy, we are able to think more clearly. Simply put, we feel better.

03-29-00_mark-bittman-the-food-matters-cookbook_originalIn this spirit of feeling better, we offer our final May giveaway — The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman. Bittman is best known for his cookbooks, How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Both are heralded for being full of recipes that are easy to follow, with affordable, down-to-earth ingredients. He also blogs for the New York Times, and his op-eds champion simple, healthful food and the pleasures of cooking — without assuming that you spend two hours making dinner every night.

The Food Matters Cookbook is one of Bittman’s newest offerings, and it draws the connection between the food choices we make and the environment. (He did an entertaining and informative TED talk on the topic, which you can find at the bottom of this post.) Bittman emphasizes that what is best for the environment is often times what is best for human health as well, and he offers 500+ recipes for “better living” that help the reader eat healthfully and sustainably. If you are looking for some inspiration for what to do with all that kale and swiss chard at the farmer’s market, or are looking for some ideas on making healthier desserts, this cookbook is for you!

As we move into the season of bounteous fresh food, let’s remember that God called all of creation GOOD, both the human body and earth that sustains us. Eating well does not have to cost a fortune, or be boring and tasteless! Let’s celebrate God’s provision for us by enjoying the good gifts of the land this season, and by tending with care the bodies in which we travel this life.

–Caren Swanson

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This week we are giving away one copy of The Food Matters Cookbook!

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway – just make sure to tell us what you did so we can count your entry!

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you e-mailed 25 friends (or tagged them in a post on Facebook) about the giveaway, and liked our Facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

And the winner is Caren Bigelow Morgan!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Caren, and let us know where to mail your copy of this book!

Thanks to all who commented here on the blog or on our facebook page, and for supporting the work of the blog and making our one year “blogiversary” a great month!  

Image by flickr user gruntzooki via Creative Commons

The Power of Habit: Keystone Habits


Don’t miss the news about the winner of this week’s giveaway on Monday’s post, and check in with us next Monday for another fun giveaway!

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On Monday, Kelli posted on The Power of Habit, a book that has been passed around our office and has generated interesting conversation. We rely on habits to help us make it through our days, so that the activities we do regularly are not as taxing to accomplish and so that we can run on autopilot when we need to.

In the book, Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits: small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives. Keystone habits have a ripple effect into other parts of life, creating positive change unexpectedly. And who doesn’t want this whole behavior change challenge to be a bit easier?

Two keystone habits that Duhigg highlights are exercise and food journaling. On exercise:

5447958713_a375185097_o“When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why…‘Exercise spills over,’ said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. ‘There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.’” (p. 109)

Once people invest time and energy in exercise, it appears that they are set up to make other beneficial changes, even without consciously doing it.

Food journaling seems a little more clear cut: if someone is focusing on weight loss, keeping track of what they eat increases the intrinsic reward of good behavior by creating an extrinsic reward, which is seeing the food consumption documented. But researchers of a large weight-loss study were surprised to see just how effective it was, and how it influenced other behaviors:

“It was hard at first [writing down everything one day per week]. The subjects forgot to carry their food journals, or would snack and not note it…Eventually, it became a habit.  Then something unexpected happened. The participant started looking at their entries and finding patterns they didn’t know existed. Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about 10 a.m., so they began keeping an apple or banana on their desks for mid-morning munchies. Others started using their journals to plan future menus, and when dinner rolled around, they ate the healthy meal they had written down, rather than junk food from the fridge.” (p. 120)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chore of recording food was difficult at first — as all new habits are.  But researchers found that six months into the study, people who kept food records daily lost twice as much weight as everyone else! And because of their heightened awareness, they were primed to make additional positive changes to their behavior.

Exercise and food journaling are just two examples of keystone habits, and they’re by no means simple to implement. But they’ve been shown to serve as catalysts for other changes.

What are the keystone habits that set you up for flourishing?

–Catherine Wilson

Top image by eccampbell, lower one by John’s Brain, both used with permission via Creative Commons.

Loving your future self


Drop-Dead-HealthyIn Drop Dead Healthy, A. J. Jacobs (author of The Year of Living Biblically) narrates his epic quest for health perfection. He begins with a body he likens to “a python that swallowed a goat” and fastidiously pursues “maximal health from head to toe.” He writes as a wellness wannabe, not as a nutritional-fitness guru, and his self-deprecating humor and light tone makes the book an easy introduction to various realms of wellness, such as sleeping better, avoiding dangerous germs, and preserving your hearing.

Part of his mission is to begin exercising more (as he puts it, “losing my gym virginity”), and one tactic he finds helpful comes from the field of “egonomics.”

Egonomics is a theory by a Nobel Prize-winning economist named Thomas Schelling. Schelling proposes that we essentially have two selves. Those two selves are often at odds. There’s the present self, that wants that frosted apple strudel Pop-Tart. And the future self, that regrets eating that frosted apple strudel Pop-Tart.

The key to making healthy decisions is to respect your future self. Honor him or her. Treat him or her like you would treat a friend or a loved one (p. 48).

5799948301_99c92573f1_zThis is easier said than done, right? We all have a general idea of what decisions in the present will make for a better life in the future: plenty of sleep, more spinach, less cage fighting, etc. But human nature gives us a penchant for preferring present gains over future losses. How do we value our future wellness, when that present donut looks so deliciously satisfying?

Jacobs solution was to use an iPhone app (HourFace) that digitally aged his photo. “My face sagged and became splotchy–I looked like I had some sort of biblical skin disease.” He printed out his elder self and taped it to his office wall. The result?

When I’m wavering about whether to lace up my running sneakers or not, I’ll catch sight of Old A.J. Respect your elder, as disturbing-looking as he may be. This workout is for him.

[My] future self needs to be around for my sons. They deserve to know him (pp. 48-50).

What strategies do you use to remember to respect your elder self?

Tommy Grimm


image by flickr user djwtwo via creative commons



Mediterranean diet helps decrease risk of cardiovascular disease


A new, large-scale study with over 7,000 participants (aged 55-80) at high risk of heart disease, has concluded that eating a traditional Mediterranean diet can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death from heart disease among those predisposed to them.*  

All study participants had either type 2 diabetes or at least three of the following major risk factors: smoking, hypertension, elevated LDL, low HDL, overweight or obesity, or a family history of premature coronary heart disease.

What is considered a traditional Mediterranean diet?

  • High intake of extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables
  • Moderate intake of fish and poultry
  • Low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets
  • And wine in moderation with a meal


Below are excerpts from the New York Times article reporting the research findings:

“About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet…

“The findings, published on The New England Journal of Medicine’s web site on Monday [Feb. 25], were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks.  The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts.  The study [conducted in Spain] ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.

“The diet helped [reduce the risk of major cardiac events in] those following it even though they did not lose weight and most of them were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.**

“The researchers were careful to say in their paper that while the diet clearly reduced heart disease for those at high risk for it, more research was needed to establish its benefits for people at low risk. But [Dr. Ramon Estruch, the lead investigator on the study and a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona,] said he expected it would also help people at both high and low risk, and suggested that the best way to use it for protection would be to start in childhood.”

Do you eat a Mediterranean diet? 

The New York Times has posted the survey designed by the study’s researchers in Barcelona.  Use it to determine if your current diet is heart healthy.  Take the quiz.

Looking for recipes?  You can find lots of tasty suggestions for Mediterranean-style dishes you might enjoy on these and other websites:


— Melanie Kolkin


* At the time of enrollment, none of the participants had cardiovascular disease.

** It is important to note that the only health outcome researchers looked at in this study was the effect of the Mediterranean diet on major cardiovascular events (acute myocardial infarction, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes) in high-risk individuals.  It did not assess the diet’s affect on the other physical and mental health or quality of life consequences associated with the heart disease risk factors mentioned in paragraph 2.  For example,  smoking can cause emphysema and various kinds of cancer, while being overweight or obese increases an individual’s risk of developing osteoarthritis, cancer, and complications during pregnancy.

Kolata, G. (2013, February 25). Mediterranean diet shown to ward off heart attack and stroke. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, Covas M-I, D.Pharm., Corella D, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine. Online publication February 25, 2013.

(Image courtesy of USDAgov via Flikr)