There’s been a lot of evidence showing positive health outcomes for those who follow the Mediterranean dietary pattern, which is typically rich in vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and olive oil, low in processed foods and red meat and has a cuisine which cooks at moderate heat with bioactive rich mixtures such as extra virgin olive oil, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, tomato and other red and orange vegetables.
The diet has been associated with various benefits, including lower risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Now a major new review of the evidence led by the University of Sydney has found that it has a significant protective effect against cardiovascular disease in women – in fact, women who followed a Mediterranean diet had up to a 24 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 23 percent lower risk of death.
The review examined data from 16 published studies where women were following the Mediterranean diet. The studies were between 2006 and 2021 and involved over 722,000 female participants, with most women being from Europe and the United States. Their level of adherence to a Mediterranean diet was typically measured through a ‘tMDS’ or ‘traditional Mediterranean diet score’ which gives points for consumption of those various food groups linked to the diet and to the avoidance of less healthy foods, with higher scores being better.
Most studies have only shown an overall protective effect of the Mediterranean diet, not by sex, with this study the first to confirm the benefits for women. Previous work has also shown significant and similar benefits for men in terms of heart health.
It’s also exciting because this non-drug intervention can be readily recommended to people and can be incrementally adopted, with changes to a person’s diet such as using olive oil instead of other oils during cooking, adding a couple of serves of fish each week (especially an oily fish like salmon), and choosing white meat over processed meat.
The results will be invaluable in updating the dietary and clinical guideline recommendations such as the Australian dietary guidelines for diets in women, particularly to help prevent heart disease. The latest report comparing Australian women’s diet to national dietary guidelines found less than 1 in 13 Australian women are meeting fruit and vegetable intake guidelines.
According to other research from Italy, the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet extend to other areas such as longevity, overall cancer incidence, neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and diabetes.
For further information about the Mediterranean diet including tips and a sample meal plan visit https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mediterranean-diet-meal-plan#eating-out