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Why is a Mediterranean diet good for heart health?

A Mediterranean style diet, which is based on the diet circa 1960 in several areas of the Mediterranean region, specifically the Greek island of Crete, other areas of Greece and southern Italy, is good for your heart because it is rich in grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. And, the majority of the fat in the diet is provided by heart-healthy olives, olive oil, fish and seafood. 

Researchers were drawn to these areas because the adults living there had very low rates of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, as well as very long life expectancy. For example, the natives of Greece had a rate of heart disease that was 90 percent lower than that of Americans at the time.

 


Ozgen Dogan
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
For centuries Italians, Greeks, Turks, Spaniards and the coastal French have made the Mediterranean diet, rich in omega-3 foods like olive oil and coldwater fish, a way of life. It's paid huge dividends in heart health and longevity. The Lyon Diet Heart Study followed 600 patients with heart disease. Half were put on the Mediterranean diet, the other half on the American Heart Association (AHA) diet. For those on the Mediterranean diet, risk of a second heart attack dropped 70% compared to those on the AHA diet. Risk of dying from a heart attack dropped 50%. What's very interesting is that there was little change in all the participant's cholesterol levels. In fact, their low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, or bad cholesterol, were similar. One explanation for the decrease in heart disease in the Mediterranean diet group is the omega-3 fatty acid found in some of the foods they consumed: olive oil, salmon, sardines, tuna, flax seeds, walnuts and almonds.

A traditional Mediterranean diet has known benefits for the heart. This is primarily because of low levels of saturated fats in the cuisines of many countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

Many people around the Mediterranean eat small amounts of red meat and dairy and consume large amounts of heart-friendly olive oil. Cholesterol, one of the primary causes of the build-up of artery-clogging plaque, comes from animal sources such as meat and dairy. Additionally, residents of Mediterranean countries tend to consume moderate amounts of wine, which may have benefits for heart health. Combine good food habits with moderate wine consumption and exercise, and you have a recipe for heart health that beats most American lifestyles.

Mediterranean diets are not perfect: while olive oil is beneficial in some regards, it is still a fat. However, cultivating a taste for Mediterranean foods overall is not only palate pleasing, it is heart healthy.

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