Mediterranean diet good for heart health

Numerous studies have suggested a Mediterranean-style diet may better protect people from heart attack or stroke.

In a recent article by nutritionist Rosemary Stanton, published on The Conversation, it was revealed that dozens of studies have defined the features of what makes a Mediterranean dietary pattern healthy. There is no single Mediterranean diet, but primarily the diet needs to be based on whole or minimally processed foods.

Positive points accrue for protective foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, wholegrains, fish, olive oil and modest amounts of alcohol consumed with meals. High intakes of red and processed meats, sugary foods and drinks, refined grain products and fast foods all score negative points.

The benefits of certain Mediterranean diets were first publicised in the 1960s. Researchers found that rates of death from heart disease were three times higher in Northern European countries (top score to Finland) compared with four groups studied in Southern Europe.

These studies have continued for 40 to 50 years, along with others noting changes in populations as well as how eating patterns affect heart disease rates in different areas of Italy.

During the 1990s, the Lyon Heart Study began. This was a long-term study designed for participants who had already experienced a heart attack. It produced results so favourable for the benefits of Mediterranean eating patterns that it was stopped early. Results four years later confirmed the original benefits of the Mediterranean eating pattern.

Even more dramatic results were claimed from the HALE study in Europe. Conducted between 1988 and 2000, the trial involved 2340 older men and women in 11 European countries. Those who followed a Mediterranean-style diet and a generally healthy lifestyle – no smoking, moderate alcohol intake and regular physical activity – had more than a 50% lower rate of death from any cause.