A recent landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has touted the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. What is this diet and should you follow it?
For this study, the “Mediterranean diet” basically means:
- Olive oil in generous quantities
- All the fish you want
- White meat instead of red, if you eat meat
- Avoiding sodas
- Nuts and seeds
The study followed participants for 5 years and tracked their rates of cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, etc.). They found that the Mediterranean diet yielded significantly lower rates of these health issues.
I read the study to get the information directly from the source. So what conclusions can we reach from this study?
Diet can make a difference in cardiovascular disease. This is the biggest conclusion from the study and it’s a major one. The design of the study was so good that this conclusion was clear.
A diet that features olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish and avoids red meat and baked goods is better than a low fat diet that features bread, pasta, and low fat intake for preventing cardiovascular disease.
The diet in this study decreased risk 30% compared to the control group’s diet. That’s pretty good, although considering the other questions in the study we can’t conclude that olive oil and nuts are a miracle cure.
The jury is still out on meat, although eating less red meat is likely helpful. The Mediterranean diet group was not discouraged from eating chicken or fish, in fact they were asked to eat AT LEAST three servings per week of fish (especially fatty fish). Regarding other meats, they were only asked to eat white meat instead of red. The Mediterranean diet group was not discouraged from eating dairy products, either – so this study is not an endorsement of a vegan or vegetarian diet (although read the next conclusion to understand why vegan diets could still be better).
Some other diet could be even better than the Mediterranean diet – we just don’t know. The study only compared the Mediterranean diet with a low fat diet. No other comparisons were made. If you are not on a low fat diet, it’s not clear how much this diet will help you. It might help you a lot, it might not help you that much. If you are eating a diet close to the Mediterranean diet, it’s not clear what other changes you can make to even further improve your cardiovascular risk.
The Mediterranean diet is not a miracle cure and there might even be something better, but it’s better than the bread+pasta+low fat diet when it comes to avoiding cardiovascular disease.