Mediterranean Diet Benefits

Fight Heart Disease with Food

With new research out further backing the Mediterranean style of eating, maintaining a diet chock full of vegetables, fish and plant-based proteins, and healthy oils can and will help you to fight heart disease.  This lifestyle doesn't just focus on these healthy items, but it is also limited in processed foods, red meats and dairy products, and sugary food items. 

The Mediterranean diet principles are as follows: 

  • High intake of olive oil (4+ tbsp/day), fruit (3+ servings/day), nuts (3+ servings/week), vegetables (2+sevings/day), and cereals
    • Some everyday strategies: sautee vegetables, include beans and legumes in dishes as healthy protein options, make your own salad dressings
  • Moderate intake of fish (3+ times/week) and poultry (to replace red meats)
  • Low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets
    • Remove all visible fat prior to cooking
  • Wine in moderation, consumed with meals, for habitual drinkers

 All About the Study

Researchers split a cohort of over 7,400 adults aged 55-80 with a risk of heart disease (diagnosed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes) into three diet groups: Mediterranean with supplemental extra-virgin olive oil, Mediterranean with supplemental mixed nuts, and a control diet in which fruits, vegetables, grains, and low fat dairy were emphasized.  Participants in the Mediterranean groups had access to group classes run by a dietitian at the beginning of the study to learn about the diet and quarterly thereafter.  The control group on the other hand was mailed information on following a low-fat diet annually.

Monitoring included an annual medical questionnaire, validated food-frequency questionnaire, and validated physical activity questionnaire.  Height, weight, waist circumference, and biomarkers were measured at years 1, 3, and 5.

They saw a 28-30% reduction in incidence of cardiac events (heart attack, stroke) in participants that followed the Mediterranean diet with supplemental fats over the control group.  These statistics are consistent with epidemiologic findings previously published. 

While there are some limitations of the study, I am pleased to see a randomized, prospective research study in a high risk population with such statistically significant findings.  [I'm sure my fellow RDs are happy to see this in a study about nutrition - we're often the red-headed stepchild of the research world!]  To read more on the study directly from the New England Journal of Medicine, check it out here.