The Heart Healthy Mediterranean Diet

nutrition diet healthThe Mediterranean diet is the traditional diet consumed by the populations living around the Mediterranean Sea. The diet consists of unprocessed and unrefined whole cereal grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, red wine, olive oil, olives and dairy including milk and yoghurt. The diet has been researched for its ability to improve the general health and protect from a number of Western lifestyle diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Researchers can assess how closely a particular diet matches the traditional Mediterranean diet, by using a scoring system. After analysing the diet of the individual, a score is attributed to various foods within the diet and the overall score can then be used to judge the closeness of the diet to the traditional Mediterranean diet. The following food groups are usually analysed in respect to their ability to provide a Mediterranean diet score; 1) fruit, 2) vegetables, 3) nuts, 4) legumes, 5) whole grains, 6) fish, 7) ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat, 8) red and processed meats, and 9) alcohol.

Mediterranean diet

Although the Mediterranean diet is often used as the ‘gold standard’ for a healthy diet, there are many other diets that can provide the consumer with good health. Many such diets have been researched for their health effects. Such diets include the Okinawan diet and the Nordic diet. One common theme that is found from such diets is the absence of refined and processed starches, and the absence of sugar. These two factors are a major contributor to the development of the oxidative stress, inflammation, poor glycaemic control and the insulin insensitivity that is the cause of Western lifestyle disease. One of the benefits of traditional diets such as the Mediterranean diet is that appetite is controlled and fat loss occurs effortlessly without the need for conscious energy restriction or exercise. As weight gain is a major factor in disease progression and is associated with oxidative stress and inflammation, the fat loss effects of the diet may explain the health benefits.

Researchers have used the Mediterranean diet score to assess the risk of disease. For example, in one study researchers assessed the Mediterranean diet score of a number of individuals living in the United States of America. The results of the study showed that those subjects with the highest Mediterranean diet score, indicating that their diet was closest to that of the traditional Mediterranean diet in terms of composition, had improved function in their cardiovascular system. Factors measured included left ventricular volume, stroke volume and ejection fraction. This improved function suggested the cardiovascular system of these individuals was generally healthier. A number of other studies have shown evidence that those that follow the Mediterranean diet have improved cardiovascular health when compared to those who follow a typical Western diet. Those following a typical Western diet are therefore encouraged to make dietary changes that brings their eating habits in line with those of the traditional Mediterranean diet.

Eat Well, Stay Healthy, Protect Yourself


Levitan, E. B., Ahmed, A., Arnett, D. K., Polak, J. F., Hundley, W. G., Bluemke, D. A., Heckbert, S. R., Jacobs, D. R. and Nettleton, J. A. 2016. Mediterranean diet score and left ventricular structure and function: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 104(3): 595-602

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
This entry was posted in Cardiovascular Disease, Mediterranean Diet. Bookmark the permalink.