Afraid for your heart? This diet could help prevent heart attacks

Science and Health

An analysis of 16 studies found that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart disease and early death in women by about 25%. 

Prof. Sarah Zaman, a member of Westmead Applied Research Centre at the University of Sydney who compiled the research, told CNN that this analysis adds to what is already known about the cardiovascular benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but highlights that it’s as beneficial for women as it is for men.

In 2020, one in five deaths among women in the United States was due to heart disease. Despite this, few heart studies have looked specifically at women, Zaman said.

Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, stated that for years a Mediterranean-style diet has been known to be beneficial for heart health but it’s encouraging to see this research that suggests that when women are studied separately from men, the benefits remain.

The analysis, published in Heart Journal, collated research from studies on the Mediterranean diet, while separating women and men. Women received points for eating more beneficial foods like vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seafood which are components of this diet, and eating less red and processed meat.

Mel & Michelle serves up fine Italian food with a Mediterranean twist (credit: Courtesy)

Benefits to following this diet

Women who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 24% lower risk of heart disease and a 23% lower risk of early death than women who barely observed the diet, the study found. There was also a decrease in stroke deaths, but it wasn’t statistically significant.

Dr. Roxana Mehran, a cardiologist who wasn’t involved in the study, stated that she’s excited to finally see data on women because previous studies had no or scant information which took women’s health into account. Merhan directs the interventional cardiovascular research and clinical trials at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Although this is the first study that specifically examined women, it’s important to emphasize that the encouraging results are also true for men. According to Zaman, there was a 22% lower risk of heart disease and a 23% lower risk of death in men.

Taylor, the British expert, said that the analysis had limitations. All 16 studies were observational, i.e. they cannot show cause and effect, and they tended to rely on self-reports of food intake, which are inevitably affected by memory. 

Taylor stated that the authors acknowledged the limitations and advise readers to interpret their findings with caution, but it also supports the need for more sex-specific research.

She added that regardless of your sex, a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet such as the Mediterranean-style can help people lower the risk of developing heart disease and other comorbidities including type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.