By Emma Louise Toolson
Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a study linking the Mediterranean diet with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Quite simply, the Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is based on the traditional foods and cooking styles of countries along the Mediterranean Sea. The general eating pattern while following a Mediterranean diet includes:
- Several servings of fruits and vegetables daily
- Focus on healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil
- Consuming fish and poultry at least two times per week
- Limiting dairy products, red meat, processed meats and sweets
- Use of herbs and spices to flavor foods in place of salt
- Red wine, in moderation (if appropriate)
While the Mediterranean diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, a typical Western diet, in contrast, contains more processed foods, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat. Another key feature of the Mediterranean diet is the inclusion of regular physical activity — the Western diet, meanwhile, tends to be more sedentary.
The NEJM study followed 7447 participants over 6 years. Two groups of participants were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet pattern, while a third followed a low-fat diet which acted as a control. The two groups following the Mediterranean eating plan were given either olive oil or mixed nuts to provide the monounsaturated (healthy) fats. Restricting calories was not advised for either group. The study observed a Mediterranean diet, in which extra-virgin olive oil or nuts were the main source of fat, resulted in a significant reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events in high-risk individuals. This led researchers to conclude that following a Mediterranean diet may prevent cardiovascular disease, particularly in those that are already at risk.