Q. I hear that it’s now been proved that the Mediterranean diet really is good for your heart. Is that true?
A. Studies going back 60 years have studied the effect of diet on rates of heart attacks, strokes, and other conditions caused by atherosclerosis of the arteries (vascular disease). These studies have shown that people who eat a Mediterranean diet—a diet rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, and low in red meats and processed meats, with a moderate amount of cheese and wine—have lower rates of vascular disease.
However, most of these studies could not prove that the Mediterranean diet was the reason that people had healthier arteries. The best way to prove that something (a treatment or a lifestyle practice) causes a benefit is to conduct a randomized trial. One previous such study in people with heart disease had shown benefits, but that did not prove that a Mediterranean diet would protect against vascular disease in people who did not yet have it.
The new study, from Spain, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, involved nearly 7,500 people ages 55 or older who did not have vascular disease. Those who were assigned at random to follow the Mediterranean diet every day were similar to those who were assigned at random to a low-fat diet—except, of course, for their diets. The Mediterranean diet group had a 30% lower rate of developing vascular disease.
In my opinion, this study is very strong scientific evidence that the Mediterranean diet really is good for your heart and brain. It is a reason for all of us to consider adopting this diet.
—Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
Editor in Chief
Harvard Health Letter