How the Mediterranean Diet Might Help Your Heart

Mediterranean diet may lower heart disease risk for some patients

(RxWiki News) Wine, cheese, seafood and pasta — could this really be a heart-healthy diet? Actually, it could be. Called the Mediterranean diet, it includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and red wine in moderation.

New research has found that eating this way may lower heart disease risk. This new study found that Greeks who ate the traditional Greek diet were less likely to develop heart disease than those whose eating patterns were less traditional.

Although past studies had similar findings, the focus in this study was on the general population rather than middle-aged people.

"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 lead study author Ekavi N. Georgousopoulou, a PhD candidate at Harokopio University in Athens, in a press release.

Georgousopoulou added, “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."

Deepika Gopal, MD, a cardiologist at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, TX, told dailyRx News that the Mediterranean diet and the standard US diet are nearly polar opposites.

"While the Mediterranean diet is high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, the average American diet is high in refined carbohydrates, sugars and red meats," Dr. Gopal said. "However, the majority of calories consumed in both of these diets comes from fat. In Mediterranean diets, monounsaturated fats are typically consumed, which do not raise cholesterol levels like the saturated fats and trans fats that are consumed in the typical American diet."

Georgousopoulou co-led this study with Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos, PhD, a professor at Harokopio University.

The term Mediterranean diet is actually a bit of a misnomer, according to Dr. Artemis P. Simopoulos, who conducted research in 2001 on dietary patterns and cancer in the Mediterranean area. In an article about the diet, she noted that many variations exist, depending on the country, religion and culture.

Dr. Simopoulos noted that the traditional Greek diet includes a high intake of fruits, vegetables (especially wild plants) and nuts. Greeks ate cereal primarily in the form of sourdough bread, with liberal amounts of olive oil and olives.

Prior to the 1960s, most Greeks ate this way. Traditional Greeks ate cheese in preference to milk and fish rather than red meat. They drank moderate amounts of wine.

However, she noted that Greeks tended to drink more wine than people in other Mediterranean countries. Her article was published in 2001 in the Journal of Nutrition.

Georgousopoulou and colleagues enrolled 1,514 men and 1,528 women who lived in or near Athens in a long-term study. All were basically healthy and had no clinical signs of heart disease.

All study patients were older than 18 and ranged in age to 89. These patients completed health and dietary surveys.

In 2011-2012, these researchers completed follow-ups on 2,583 patients.

Georgousopoulou and team found that 19.7 percent of the men and nearly 12 percent of the women had developed or died of heart disease or a related condition like stroke.

Study patients who ate the traditional Greek diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who did not follow traditional eating patterns.

Smoking, gender, age and conditions like diabetes had less of an impact than following the traditional diet, according to Georgousopoulou and team.

"Because the Mediterranean diet is based on food groups that are quite common or easy to find, people around the world could easily adopt this dietary pattern and help protect themselves against heart disease with very little cost," Georgousopoulou said.

This study will be presented March 15 at the American College of Cardiology's 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.

Funding and conflicts of interest information was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
March 4, 2015