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The Truth About The Mediterranean Diet and Heart Disease

The Mediterranean Movement is so excited to welcome Veronica Rouse, The Heart Dietitian, to the blog!

You can learn more about Veronica in the bio section below.

the truth of Medi Diet and heart disease

By: Veronica Rouse, The Heart Dietitian

When we look to the science it is very clear that nutrition can play a role in preventing and managing heart disease.  Specifically, the Mediterranean diet is a powerhouse when it comes to choosing a way of eating that can lower blood pressure and manage cholesterol levels.

There are a few reasons why the Mediterranean eating pattern is recommended for prevention and management of heart disease, but before we get into that let’s look at the research.

What Studies Show

Studies show that individuals following a Mediterranean style of eating have lower risk of developing heart disease.

The PREDIMED Research Trial

The PREDIMED research trial was a hallmark primary prevention trial that was done in Spain. It was designed to compare three different diets in individuals at risk of heart disease. The three different diets were:

1) a control group (participants were encouraged to eat a reduced fat diet)

2) a higher fat Mediterranean diet with emphasis on extra virgin olive oil

3) a higher fat Mediterranean diet with emphasis on nuts

The results show that individuals that followed a Mediterranean diet that was supplemented with either extra virgin olive oil or nuts had a 30% lower risk of getting a stroke, heart attack or dying from cardiac causes; which is quite compelling. During the analysis, researchers did not find a difference between the olive oil or the nut Mediterranean diets. This simply means eating the Mediterranean way can lower your risk of or getting another heart attack or stroke, additionally, it can also delay the progression of disease.

The Lyon Diet Heart Study

The other hallmark study to highlight was the Lyon Diet Heart Study which was conducted on individuals living with heart disease. This study was a secondary prevention trial; which means, the participants in this study were those who are living with cardiovascular disease or have already experienced a heart attack or stroke.

During this research trial eating a Mediterranean diet pattern was compared to a low-fat way of eating. What this study found was that individuals who ate the Mediterranean way had a 72% lower risk of getting a repeat heart attack or dying from heart-related causes.  These results are strictly attributed to diet, which makes these results so compelling.

Principles to Follow

So what principles of the Mediterranean diet pattern help prevent and manage heart disease?

1) It’s a high-fat diet

Both research studies compared the Mediterranean diet to a low fat diet. But don’t think you can go ahead and eat any type of fat. These participants ate unsaturated fatty acids which are found in foods like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and fish.

2)  Consumption of plant based foods is encouraged.

The Mediterranean diet is considered a plant based diet because it promotes the consumption of plant based foods. What are plants?

  • Vegetables and  fruits – It’s important to add colour on your plate at each meal
  • Nuts and seeds – These make an excellent snack
  • Whole grains – Switch your white rice for brown rice or try new grains like bulgur or barley
  • Legumes – These are your chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils and black beans. This is a great way to meet your protein needs without eating animal meats.

These plant foods provide fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  Eating these foods leaves less room for unhealthy foods like processed grains and animal products.

3) It emphasizes eating more protein from plants than animal meats. (Note from The Mediterranean Movement: Learn about more Mediterranean Diet principles here. )

Where do we find Protein in Plants?

So where do we find protein in plants? Well they can be found in our:

Legumes – aiming to eat these at least 3 times a week is a great place to start

Nuts – choosing a variety of unsalted nuts can help meet your protein needs

Plant protein should be eaten more often than animal protein. When you do choose protein from animals it is encouraged to eat fish more often than poultry, and poultry more often than red meat like beef, pork and lamb.

What to Eat

In summary, make sure you are eating

  1. the right type of fat
  2. enough fat
  3. mostly plants
  4. more protein from plants and fish than animals

If you follow these principles you will be well on your way to eating the Mediterranean way to manage your blood pressure, cholesterol and delay the progression of heart disease. If you or someone you know is living with heart disease, come join me on my Instagram page @the.heart.dietitian or sign up for my monthly newsletter

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