Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: The Mediterranean diet difference

Q. I hear that it's now been proved that the Mediterranean diet really is good for your heart. Is that true?

A. Studies going back 60 years have studied the effect of diet on rates of heart attacks, strokes, and other conditions caused by atherosclerosis of the arteries (vascular disease). These studies have shown that people who eat a Mediterranean diet—a diet rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, and low in red meats and processed meats, with a moderate amount of cheese and wine—have lower rates of vascular disease.

However, most of these studies could not prove that the Mediterranean diet was the reason that people had healthier arteries. The best way to prove that something (a treatment or a lifestyle practice) causes a benefit is to conduct a randomized trial. One previous such study in people with heart disease had shown benefits, but that did not prove that a Mediterranean diet would protect against vascular disease in people who did not yet have it.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »