The Best Diet for Your Heart?

There are many fad diets circling the internet, but the Mediterranean diet is no such thing.  This diet emphasizes olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, low intake of dairy and meat, and fish and poultry in moderation.  Lots of evidence shows that the Mediterranean diet promotes heart health, but how does it stack up against statins—a popular type of drug prescribed by doctors to lower cholesterol?

What the Science Shows
In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers recruited almost 7,500 older adults with either type 2 diabetes or a combination of risk factors.  They randomly assigned these subjects to follow one of three diets for 5 years: a control diet or the Mediterranean diet with either added extra-virgin olive oil or nuts.  At the end of 5 years, those on the Mediterranean diet were 30% less likely to have developed several types of cardiovascular disease.

A separate mega-trial published by the American Heart Association enlisted almost 18,000 patients with chronically high levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and hsCRP (the body’s inflammation marker) to take statins—which work by reducing how much cholesterol the liver makes.  After just 2 years, the trial was stopped because there was a 44% reduction of cardiovascular disease in patients taking a statin!

How to Think about It All
If you’re worried about your heart or are at risk of high cholesterol, the Mediterranean Diet is an easy way to improve heart health—and this new evidence suggests it’s almost as effective as statins.  We’re not saying you shouldn’t take statins (especially if your doctor recommends it), but you might want to consider a Mediterranean diet too.  Another key component of the Mediterranean diet is exercise, and if you don’t already exercise, there are plenty of benefits to reap.  Traditional Mediterranean populations, on which this dietary concept is based, stayed active throughout their lives not just by walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day but by planting a garden or walking to the store instead of driving.  These characteristics and others like active social lives and drinking wine in moderation have contributed to the area’s notoriety as a blue zone, a region whose inhabitants live extraordinarily long in good health.

(Feature photo courtesy of

Isaac Everitt

Isaac Everitt is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.