Mediterranean style eating is often said to be one of the healthiest by many health organisations and dietitians. So, does it live up to its good reputation and is it one of the best diets for your heart?
Is the Mediterranean eating pattern the best diet best for heart health?
The Mediterranean diet continues to rank highly as one of the best diets for heart health. A panel of health experts in the U.S recently judged various eating plans and popular diets on criteria including how healthy and safe they are, how well they work and how easy they are to follow. Against all these criteria the Mediterranean diet continues to come out as one of the best!
The Mediterranean diet is often said to be one of the healthiest by many health organisations and dieticians. So, does it live up to its good reputation and is it one of the best diets for your heart?
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a traditional diet from the Mediterranean basin from that was predominantly eaten up until the 50s and 60s. However, the modern diet now eaten in this area contains much more red meat and processed food. This change in dietary patterns to more processed food is common in all Western countries.
A traditional Mediterranean diet is well known for including lots of extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil every day. It also includes:
- lots of leafy green vegetables, fruits, whole grain foods, nuts and legumes/pulses (like chickpeas and lentils)
- moderate amounts of fish and other meat, as well as dairy and red wine
- small amounts of foods such as eggs and treat foods
The Mediterranean diet is full of unprocessed plant-foods and heart-healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and seeds and avocado. It’s low in the less healthy saturated fat because less meat or fried food is eaten. All of which fits well within the foundations of a heart-healthy diet.
Benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the heart
The traditional Mediterranean diet has been extensively studied for the past 20 years and has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease in the general population. It’s also been found to lower the risk of heart disease, and improve risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels in people with a high risk of heart disease.
- Heart Foundation research on dietary patterns has shown that the Mediterranean diet has a protective effect on our heart. Increased adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a lowered risk of heart disease both in prevention and treatment (1).
- A critical review of 45 studies looking at the Mediterranean diet and heart health found that the evidence is large, strong and consistent. Increased adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet is associated with better heart health outcomes including reductions in coronary heart disease, stroke and total cardiovascular disease (2).
Is it the best diet?
When it comes to what we eat there is no on single diet that is best for our heart health. Around the world, we see various dietary patterns that support a long and healthy life. Well-known examples include: the traditional Mediterranean diet, the vegetarian diet of the Seventh Day Adventists, and the largely plant-based diet of the Okinawans in Japan.
These dietary patterns share some common themes that support a long and healthy life and have been shown to reduce risk factors such as high blood pressure and raised cholesterol levels.
The bottom line
The traditional Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest eating patterns around for a variety of reasons. If you’re looking to make some positive changes for your heart, then including some dishes and importantly some of the principles underpinning Mediterranean way of eating will do wonders for your heart health.
It is important to be mindful that the Mediterranean way of eating is not so much a diet, it is a lifestyle where there are multiple factors beyond just the food that help contribute to its healthiness. These include an emphasis on activity, mindfully eating with friends and family, preparing food together and socialising over meals.
Chief Advisor Food and Nutrition, Heart Foundation
Dave is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian who also completed chef training while studying nutrition. He enjoys combining a knowledge of nutrition together with the practical aspects of food to support people to eat healthier. As a father of three youngish children Dave’s food philosophy is very much built around keeping things real when it comes to food choices, remembering that food is so much more than the nutrients it gives us, food is also about taste, tradition, connection, family, friends and fun. Dave is a fan of almost all foods, but loves the burst of flavour that fresh lime, coriander and chilli gives to dishes.