A diet, based on the traditional one in certain areas of the Mediterranean region, that may reduce the risk of heart disease — especially in people with diabetes. In 1970, the Seven Countries Study first determined that people in Mediterranean countries (Greece, Italy, and the former Yugoslavia) have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, and much of this reduced risk has been attributed to diet. The Mediterranean diet is composed of more vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, grains, unrefined cereals, bread, olive oil, garlic, and fish — and less red meat — than the typical Western diet. It also includes low to moderate intake of cheese and yogurt. It includes relatively few foods with refined carbohydrates and tends to be high in fiber and low in saturated fat.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve blood lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides), improve the function of the inner walls of blood vessels, and reduce markers of blood vessel inflammation. A number of clinical studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease. One study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine compared the Mediterranean diet with a low-fat diet in people at high risk for heart disease. Compared with those on the low-fat diet, people on the Mediterranean diet had improved markers of heart disease risk, including lower plasma glucose levels, lower systolic blood pressure, and lower blood lipid levels.
In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the Mediterranean diet was compared with a low-fat diet and a low-carbohydrate diet in 322 moderately obese employees of a research center in Israel. Researchers assigned each employee to one of the three diets and followed them over a two-year period. Those on the low-fat diet lost an average of 6.4 pounds, while those on the low-carbohydrate or Mediterranean diet lost roughly 10 pounds. Among the 36 participants with Type 2 diabetes, only those on the Mediterranean diet had a decrease in fasting blood glucose levels. (Insulin and HbA1c levels decreased in all three groups.)
In another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers studied the eating patterns of over 40,000 Australian men and women ages 40–69 over a ten-year period. Those who consumed the most Mediterranean-diet foods were 30% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who ate the least of such foods. When the researchers looked at a subgroup of people who had diabetes, those consuming the most Mediterranean-diet foods had a 79% lower risk of dying of heart disease than those consuming the least.
In people who don’t have diabetes, adhering to the Mediterranean diet may lower the risk of developing it. In a study published in BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal), researchers followed nearly 14,000 healthy people for an average of four and a half years, tracking their diets and noting which ones developed diabetes. Those who adhered most closely to a Mediterranean-style diet had an 83% lower chance of developing diabetes than those with the least adherence.
To view the Mediterranean-diet food pyramid, log on to www.oldwayspt.org/med_pyramid.html.