Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

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The Mediterranean Diet has been found to have many benefits for cardiovascular health. Since obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, it is important to make dietary choices that not only help with weight management but also improve cardiovascular health.

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

Rather than being a fad diet that one chooses solely for the short-term purposes of weight loss, the Mediterranean Diet is a lifestyle choice, a way of eating for the rest of one’s life.

This is the natural style of eating for most of the inhabitants of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea—hence the name.

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes consumption of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tree nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, fish and poultry, and wine (particularly red wine) in moderation.

What Are Its Health Benefits?

Several studies over the past few decades have found that the Mediterranean Diet has benefits for cardiovascular health.

In the 1990s, the results of a landmark trial known as the Lyon Diet Heart Study were released. This study looked at 605 patients who had already had a heart attack and followed them for an average of nearly 4 years. The study investigators found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet enriched in alpha-linolenic acid (a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids) had a much lower risk of having another heart attack or dying from heart disease.

More recently, in 2013, results from the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) trial were first released. Also a randomized trial, this study looked at patients who had no known cardiovascular disease but were at high risk. The study investigators followed these patients for nearly five years and found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented either with extra-virgin olive oil or with mixed nuts were less likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or death from a cardiac cause than were those study participants who were simply advised to reduce the fat in their daily diets.

Further analyses have found that the more nuts consumed in the diet, the less likely one is to die prematurely from any cause.

Results from these and other studies have been so compelling that national organizations such as the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association now recommend a Mediterranean or DASH-style diet for prevention of stroke.

Sources:

de Lorgeril M, Salen P, Martin JL, et al. Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation 1999;99:779-785.

Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med 2013;368:1279-1290.

Bao Y, Han J, Hu, FB, et al. Association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med 2013;369:2001-2011.

Tracy SW. History of medicine: something new under the sun? The Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular health. N Engl J Med 2013;368:1274-1276.

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