It may be time to pay closer attention to how people eat in the Mediterranean part of the world. Numerous studies have suggested the Mediterranean diet is a healthy strategy. Now a new study  shows that followers of the Mediterranean diet had 47 percent less incidence of heart disease in the 10 years of the study than people who were not on the diet.

The study, conducted in Greece, is the first to look at heart disease risk over 10 years and in a general population. More than 2,500 adults from ages 18 to 89, shared their health information with researchers from 2001-2012. In addition, participants provided responses to surveys about health, lifestyle, and diet at the beginning,  middle, and end of the 10-year period.

What’s a Mediterranean diet?

“It’s important to realize the Mediterranean Diet is not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle,” John P. Erwin III, MD, a cardiologist and professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “For the benefits to be seen, regular adherence is a must.” Here are tips from Dr. Erwin on adhering to the diet.

  • The diet relies on plant-based foods.
  • The Mediterranean diet is less focused on starches and red meat than the traditional western diet.
  • You don’t have to give up red meat, but limit consumption to three or four times in a month.
  • It promotes high-fiber vegetables, poultry or fish, whole grains, beans, fruit and low-fat dairy products.
  • You don’t have to avoid fats, but choose healthy, unsaturated fats, like olive or canola oil.
  • Consume one to three servings of fish per week.
  • Avoid frying foods.
  • Alcohol is permitted in moderation; one drink per day for women and two for men.

Across all participants in the study, nearly 20 percent of males and 12 percent of females were diagnosed with heart disease, including stroke, coronary heart disease, heart attack, and other diseases.

Those who the researchers scored highest on a scale of 1-55 for 11 food groups by following the Mediterranean diet more closely were 47 percent less likely to experience heart disease. This risk reduction was found despite other factors for heart disease, such as family history of heart disease, body mass index, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

“Our study shows that the Mediterranean diet is a beneficial intervention for all types of people — in both genders, in all age groups, and in both healthy people and those with health conditions,” says Ekavi Georgousopoulou, a PhD candidate at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece, and a co-author of the study. “It also reveals that the Mediterranean diet has direct benefits for heart health, in addition to its indirect benefits in managing diabetes, hypertension, and inflammation.”

You don’t need to live in Greece to reap the benefits of adhering to this diet, the authors note.

“Because the Mediterranean diet is based on food groups that are quite common or easy to find, people around the world could easily adopt this dietary pattern and help protect themselves against heart disease with very little cost,” Georgousopoulou says.

The study was presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.



American College of Cardiology. (2015, March 4). Mediterranean diet cuts heart disease risk by nearly half.
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Grimm, E. (2015, April 8). Eating to your heart’s content: How the Mediterranean diet can improve your heart health. Vital Record, News from Texas A&M University Health Science Center.
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