Mediterranean diet and heart health

By Siski Green, Thursday 28 February 2013

Mediterranean diet cuts risk of heart problems by nearly a third, say Spanish researchers.
Mixed salad with olive oilResearch found that a Mediterranean diet can cut the risk of heart problems by nearly a third

If you weren’t convinced of the benefits of swapping your cheap vegetable oil for healthier, but more pricy, olive oil, new research from Spain might just convince you it’s worth the extra cash. A five-year study has shown that a diet high in olive oil, along with other dietary changes, can reduce cardiovascular problems by 30%. Most significantly, the results indicate that a high-in-olive-oil-and-nuts diet is better for your heart than a simple low-fat diet.

Researchers from the University of Barcelona followed nearly 7,500 people who all had cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, for example.

The researchers grouped the study participants into three groups:

The first group had a Mediterranean diet (defined as being higher-than-average in fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes such as beans, lentils etc, and unrefined cereals, as well as fish), with one litre of extra-virgin olive oil provided free to them each week.

The second group had a Mediterranean diet along with nuts – 15g of walnuts, 7.5g of almonds and 7.5g of hazelnuts – provided free.

The third group ate a low-fat diet containing both animal and vegetable-based foods. All groups were visited by a dietician every three months and were provided with training group sessions to offer advice and guidelines regarding their diets.

All participants were given shopping lists, menus and recipes to suit the three different diets, including variations depending on the season, to enable them to stick to whichever diet they had been put on.

After five years both the groups on the Mediterranean diet showed a significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular-related death or stroke.

This, say the researchers, is a particularly important, and somewhat controversial, finding as it indicates that it may not be necessary to reduce fats in order to improve heart health. Rather it is the type of fats that are ingested that are important.

Want the same benefits yourself? Go to and click on the British flag in the top right corner to access the English-language version of the website. Next, click on the Implementation of the Intervention and you’ll find the same shopping lists that the study participants used for their diets. It is in Spanish, however, so here is a quick breakdown of what the Mediterranean diet included per day:

  • 2 portions of dairy, with two portion being the equivalent of a glass of milk or two yogurts or 40g of hard cheese
  • 2 portions of meat/poultry/fish/eggs, with one portion being 100g of red meat or 150g of white fish, for example
  • 4-6 portions of starchy foods, with one portion being 80g of bread or 50g of cereal, 200g of rice or pasta
  • 2-4 portions of vegetables, with one portion being a salad or 250g of fresh or frozen vegetables 2-3 portions of fruit, with one portion being an apple or a pear or 200-300g of melon
  • 2-3 portions of sweets, with one portion being one teaspoon of a sugary dessert or one teaspoon of honey or jam
  • 5 portions of fats, with one portion being one teaspoon of olive oil or 12g of butter or margarine

Some Mediterranean recipe suggestions:

Mediterranean tart
Baked salmon with olives
Grilled sea bream
Red onion and roast cherry tomato soup
Hake with tomato, sorrel and olive oil
Warm asparagus, griddled chicken and feta salad
Stuffed aubergine with tomato and bulghur pilaff
Chicken and mango salad 
Lamb, feta and mint stuffed onions
Warm lentil salad

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.


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