Mediterranean Diet Slashes Heart Disease Risk
The American College of Cardiology has issued the most ringing endorsement of the Mediterranean Diet to date: Closely following the diet slashes one’s risk of heart disease by half. That’s remarkable news, given that cardiovascular disease is our number one killer. Cancer may get all the headlines and research dollars, but heart disease is actually the greater threat. Maybe that’s because people assume that we’ll all die of heart disease eventually, if something else doesn’t get us first.
But cardiovascular disease—which includes atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke—is largely preventable. Exercise definitely helps. And so, too, does a healthful diet. As in, the Mediterranean diet. “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, in a press release. “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 Mediterranean diet is not a strictly defined diet plan. Rather, it’s a dietary pattern traditionally practiced by people living in the Mediterranean basin, in countries as diverse as Greece, Spain, southern France, and North Africa. There are plenty of differences among the respective cuisines of these countries and regions. But there are also some common elements. Collectively, these elements combine to define the typical Mediterranean diet.
Several common features leap off the page. For example; olives and olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is almost always the chief source of fat calories in the diet. And tons of research has shown that potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in olive oil may help account for the benefits of the diet. Another feature: very little to no added sugars. The only concentrated sources of sweetness in most Mediterranean cultures, traditionally, were honey and dates. Both provide more nutrition than Western-style sugar crystals. More to the point, though, they were rare treats served in small amounts; not something used all day, every day.
Another striking feature: very little if any red meat. As I reported recently, this may be a key feature, because new research has shown that red meat (and, indeed, any kind of mammal meat) contains a sugar that triggers inflammation in humans. Rather, the Mediterranean diet gets most of its protein from legumes, nuts, seeds, and fish. Fish provides the anti-inflammatory essential nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s especially healthful.
And finally: The Mediterranean diet features lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. As I’ve said many times, these foods can do wonders for a body. They supply fiber, to keep our gut bacteria happy, and plenty of important phytonutrients, such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Not to mention that they taste great and help you feel full, so you’re less likely to overeat.
Are you concerned about inflammation and heart disease? Have you tried switching to a more Mediterranean-style diet? I’d love to hear about your challenges or successes.
American College of Cardiology. "Mediterranean diet cuts heart disease risk by nearly half." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 March 2015. .