Mediterranean diet with tomatoes basil and olive oilWe’ve all heard that a Mediterranean diet is healthy. But until now, there hasn’t been much hard evidence. Earlier this month, a landmark study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine that pitted a Mediterranean diet head-to-head with a low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet was the clear winner, lowering the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks, by 30 percent.

A Mediterranean diet includes lots of plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Those who follow this diet enjoy lots of fresh seafood, limiting meat consumption to only a few times a month. These are components of many healthy diets, and hardly surprising.

But in addition, the new study showed that a diet including nuts and olive oil likely isn’t harmful. In fact, the Spanish research team that conducted the study stated that “extra-virgin olive oil and nuts were probably responsible for most of the observed benefits of the Mediterranean diets.” The diet also allowed moderate alcohol; about seven glasses of wine per week, mostly drunk with meals.

The study compared the results of  4,997 individuals who followed a Mediterranean diet with  2,450 participants who were told to follow a low-fat diet (no nuts, oils, limited fats and sweets, three servings of low-fat dairy and three or fewer servings of bread, potatoes, rice or pasta every day) . All of the participants were between the ages of 55 and 80 and either had type 2 diabetes or were one of the following: overweight or obese, smokers, had hypertension, had high cholesterol, or had premature heart disease.

The researchers followed all the participants for an average of 4.8 years. They found that the subjects following either variation of the Mediterranean diet were 30 percent less likely to suffer one of the following: a heart attack, a stroke, or death caused by cardiovascular disease.

Ready to implement the Mediterranean diet in your life? Follow these rules:

  • Replace butter (and other fats that are solid or partially solid at room temperature) with healthy oils like olive oil and canola oil
  • Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor food
  • Make the bulk of your calories plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Limit red meat to a few times a month
  • Eat fish twice a week

Looking for menu inspiration? You’ll find that the Mediterranean diet isn’t limiting, but offers a wealth of healthy and delicious foods. Try these recipes by the Mayo clinic:

Have you tried any of these foods before? Tell us in the comments below.

For more information check out our Nutrition Resources

  • laura merrone

    We’ve always eaten an Italian-style Mediterranean diet but I’m not familiar with these recipes. We eat a lot of tomato sauce, eggplant, fish, garlic, onion and herbs like oregano, basil and parsley… We all are in good health. I’m 60 with no signs of heart disease, dementia, diabetes or any other chronic disease so it must be working…Also, eat a lot of legumes and other veggies, too…