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Aug 19, 2014

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk for Heart Disease

The closer you adhere to a Mediterranean diet, the lower your cardiovascular risk may be, finds Spanish study.

The more you adhere to a Mediterranean diet, the lower your cardiovascular risk may be, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Designed to analyze the protective effects of a Mediterranean diet on the heart, the PREDIMED study (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) was conducted in Spain over the course of five years. Almost 7,500 men and women free of heart disease participated in the study and were randomly assigned to follow one of two diets—a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil or nuts, or a low-fat diet. During the five-year study, participants completed a simple 14-point questionnaire to measure their adherence to their assigned diet. The survey included questions like “Do you use olive oil as the principal source of fat for cooking?” and, “How many pieces of fruit do you consume per day?” Based on responses, researchers were able to track how well participants adhered to the Mediterranean diet and then compare outcomes related to dietary patterns. 

After five years, researchers found that the more closely participants adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the lower their risk was for heart events like heart attack and stroke. For example, for every 2 points participants accrued on the 14-point quiz, risk for heart events decreased by 21%. Also, when researchers analyzed each individual question with outcomes, they found that consuming high amounts of vegetables and nuts also reduced risk for heart attack and stroke, even on their own. 

Perhaps most importantly, this study confirms once again the protective effect that the Mediterranean diet has on the heart. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, includes fish and poultry while limiting red meat, and includes healthy fats, like those contained in olive oil. Together, these components have been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, like in the PREDIMED study. Based on their most recent findings, PREDIMED researchers also highlight the value of their 14-point questionnaire in assessing diet. In the future, this tool may be helpful in identifying patients in need of dietary counseling and could help patients make healthier dietary choices to improve their heart health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the Mediterranean diet?
  • The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. It features foods eaten in Greece, Spain, southern Italy and France, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

    The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads and whole grains, and olive oil. Meat, cheese, and sweets are very limited. The recommended foods are rich with monounsaturated fats, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.

    The Mediterranean diet is like other heart-healthy diets in that it recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains. But in the Mediterranean diet, an average of 35-to-40% of calories can come from fat. Most other heart-healthy guidelines recommend getting less than 35% of your calories from fat. The fats allowed in the Mediterranean diet are mainly from unsaturated oils, such as fish oils, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils (such as canola, soybean, or flaxseed oil). These types of oils may have a protective effect on the heart.  For more information, read this overview of the Mediterranean diet.
  • What are the benefits of a Mediterranean diet?
  • A Mediterranean-style diet may help lower your risk for certain diseases, improve your mood, and boost your energy levels. It may also help keep your heart and brain healthy.

    The benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet reinforce the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, high-fiber breads, whole grains, and healthy fats.

    For your heart and body, a Mediterranean-style diet may:

    • Prevent heart disease.
    • Lower the risk of a second heart attack.

    • Lower cholesterol.

    • Prevent type 2 diabetes.

    • Prevent metabolic syndrome.

    For your brain, a Mediterranean-style diet might help prevent:

    • Alzheimer's disease and other dementia.
    • Depression.
    • Parkinson's disease.

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