The Mediterranean diet, vegetable-heavy, low in sugar, and high in fat, has long been considered one of the best diets for heart-health and longevity. This idea emerged in the 1960s when studies revealed that people from Greece and Italy have lower rates of coronary heart disease than those from northern Europe or the United States.
The Mediterranean Diet and Heart Health
While this observation is decades old, the root of this phenomenon wasn’t concrete. But now, recent studies have aimed to find a more direct correlation between the Mediterranean diet and heart health. Thousands of participants with an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease, marked by conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, or a family history of heart disease, were randomly assigned a high-fat Mediterranean diet, or a non-Mediterranean, low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet group was encouraged to eat lots of fish, vegetables, legumes and nuts, and advised to steer-clear of high amounts of dairy, sweets, and red or processed meats. Additionally, they were given free EVOO or mixed nuts to supplement their diets. EVOO and nuts are great sources of healthy antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, and are thought to contribute to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Participants were directed to follow their diets for five years to understand the long-term effects of their eating habits.
The Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
After only three months of intervention, Mediterranean-diet participants had significantly reduced their cholesterol and inflammation compared to the low-fat diet. More importantly, participants that followed the Mediterranean diet for an average of 4.8 years had significantly reduced their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 30%, with significantly less myocardial infarctions, strokes, and heart-related deaths. While this study has demonstrated the link between Mediterranean diets and heart health, ongoing studies are exploring how specific compounds within EVOO, like oleocanthal can benefit us.
Update July 2020
A systematic review and meta analysis of prospective cohort studies and randomized clinical trials (RCTs) on the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet was published recently. This research showed the beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet on incidence and mortality from cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, and myocardial infarction.