Can a Mediterranean diet prevent heart disease?

Polenta

I heard that a Mediterranean diet is much better for your health and can prevent heart disease. Is this true and what’s the best way to change my diet?

BHF dietitian Victoria Taylor says:

Research shows that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce your risk of another heart attack. A Mediterranean diet typically means one that is rich in fruit and vegetables, oily fish, such as sardines, and wholegrain cereals, with modest amounts of meat and low-fat dairy. One of the better-known aspects is the use of monounsaturated fats such as olive oil instead of saturated fats such as butter.

The traditional Mediterranean diet naturally includes most of the key diet changes that will help to keep your heart healthy

However, what’s less clear is whether it is specific foods or the Mediterranean diet as a whole – which includes the combination of all the different foods along with the lifestyle and eating pattern that goes with it – that provides the heart health benefit.

This makes sense, as it’s true to say that if you are eating a diet that is generally high in saturated fat and salt and low in fruit and vegetables, then adding olive oil won’t compensate if that’s the only change you make. However, if you adjust your whole diet so that you eat less meat and more fish, replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats such as olive, rapeseed and sunflower oils, and eat more fruit and vegetables, then that could make a significant difference.

The traditional Mediterranean diet naturally includes most of the key diet changes that will help to keep your heart healthy. So you could try basing your meals on starchy carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread and pasta and make sure you eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and salads, including tomatoes.

Instead of relying on meat, make sure that you get a variety of protein options through having more fish in your diet as well as beans and pulses. You should also cut down on the foods that provide a lot of saturated fat in your diet such as dairy products and butter. Instead, use more vegetable oils, which provide unsaturated fat – the most famously used one in the Mediterranean being olive oil.

Victoria Taylor Meet the expert

Victoria Taylor is a registered dietitian with more than ten years’ experience. Her work for the NHS focused on weight management and community programmes for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. At the BHF she advises on diet and nutrition.

Related publications

More useful information