March 2, 2013 -- Joan Sabaté is a public health expert on nutrition, nuts and vegetarian diets based in Southern California. He is my dad and he's been having a great week.
A public health study that he was an advisor for made headlines this week. He wasn't directly involved in the research portion but his colleagues found that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil or nuts lowers the risk of major cardiovascular events, like heart attacks, strokes and disease.
This team of researchers in Spain found that among persons at a high cardiovascular risk, eating a plant-based Mediterranean diet with nuts or olive oil brings an almost 30 percent reduction in risk.
I asked him to tell me a little more about why these results are important. He explained that these findings contradict years of health recommendations that discouraged eating fat in any form.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death around the world and for decades a low-fat foods were encouraged. Since 1980s, physicians, the food industry and the federal government have promoted a low-fat diet for high-risk heart patients and the general public.
"For years we had the wrong message: Fat is [bad] for you," Sabaté said. It is unhealthy if it's saturated fat, like animal fat. But when the fat is unsaturated, unrefined and plant-based, we have here a clear example that it's quite beneficial to you."
These results confirmed research that he started two decades ago on how eating nuts improves your health. In February 1993, he published a landmark study that showed walnuts improved cholesterol levels.
Back then, the Associated Press report introduced the findings acknowledging seemingly incongruous findings.
"Unlikely as it may sound, a study released today suggests that nuts in general, and walnuts in particular, lower cholesterol," wrote the reporter.
My father has since continued studying the healthy properties of nuts such as almonds and pecans. His and other research has shown that nuts, which are high in fat, are indeed a healthy food.
In case you are wondering, yes, since Eddie Murphy's "The Nutty Professor" came out in 1996, I've heard every nutty professor joke in the book. Having a nut for a dad can be kind of great. And I've learned to love nuts, in both senses of the word.