The Mediterranean diet – a diet based on the diets eaten in countries bordering the Mediterranean sea – may be the key to preventing heart disease, according to numerous studies on the subject.
While most healthy diets include fruits and vegetables as well as lean proteins and whole grains, the Mediterranean diet tailors that formula, emphasizing the consumption of plant-based foods, whole grains, nuts and legumes, with fish and poultry being primary sources of protein and limiting the consumption of red meat.
In the Mediterranean diet, butter is replaced with healthier sources of fats, such as olive oil – but the diet is not without indulgences; a glass of red wine with dinner is not uncommon and can even be encouraged for those following the diet.
The diet has received much recognition for its heart-healthy effects, and is even recommended by the Mayo Clinic for those looking to reduce their blood pressure and cholesterol.
Study after study has shown that there is real science backing up the belief that the Mediterranean diet is one of the best diets for promoting heart health; for example, a 2013 study reported significant reductions in blood pressure among study participants who adhered to the Mediterranean diet.
An overview of research to date in the journal Public Health Nutrition in 2006 concluded that “both epidemiologic and metabolic studies suggest that individuals can benefit greatly by adopting elements of Mediterranean diets.”
The study included more than 2,500 Greek adults, aged 18 to 89, whose diets and health were tracked for 10 years. Nearly 20 percent of men and 12 percent of women in the study developed or died from heart disease.
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People who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who did not closely follow the diet. The researchers also found that sticking to a Mediterranean diet was more protective against heart disease than physical activity.
“Our study shows that the Mediterranean diet is a beneficial intervention for all types of people–in both genders, in all age groups, and in both healthy people and those with health conditions,” said Ekavi Georgousopoulou, a Ph.D. candidate at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece.
“It also reveals that the Mediterranean diet has direct benefits for heart health, in addition to its indirect benefits in managing diabetes, hypertension and inflammation,” the researcher added.
How The Mediterranean Diet Works
Unlike other diets, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t focus on limiting total fat consumption, but rather on substituting lower-quality, less heart-healthy types of fat for healthier ones.
The primary source of fat in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil, a monounsaturated fat which can actually help reduce cholesterol levels, especially in the least processed forms (such as “virgin” and “extra-virgin” olive oil).
Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, and trout, are eaten on a regular basis, which provides people on the Mediterranean diet with essential omega-3 fatty acids – which can lower triglycerides and decrease blood clotting.
Herbs and spices are also staples of the Mediterranean diet, and can stand in for salt and fat in many recipes, making Mediterranean dishes both tasty and good for you.
Combined with regular exercise, the Mediterranean diet can help significantly with weight control, in part due to how rich in lean proteins and fibre it is – the filling nature of the diet reduces the impulse to “top up” with empty calories, and the regular meals are lower in cholesterol and trans fats than most typical North American diets.
Overall, many people who adhere to Mediterranean diets live longer and have lower rates of heart attacks and strokes – so if you’re concerned about your heart health, it may be time to think about making the switch to a Mediterranean diet.
- http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/health/mediterranean-diet-can-cut-heart-disease-study-finds.html? pagewanted=all
- http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art- 20047801?pg=1