Mediterranean and plant-based diets may help lower heart disease risk, according to research
07/28/2020 / By Leslie Locklear / Comments
Mediterranean and plant-based diets may help lower heart disease risk, according to research

If you’re looking for a nutrition plan that can help lower your risk for heart disease, the Mediterranean diet may be for you.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health observed that the Mediterranean diet – as well as similar plant-based diets – helped in reducing the heart disease risk in adults.

The researchers focused on dietary scores for four healthy eating patterns for the study: the Healthy Eating Index-2015, the Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score, Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index and the Alternate Healthy Eating Index.

Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the other diets in the study promoted eating more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts, while at the same time, advocated reduced consumption of red and processed meat, as well as sugar-sweetened drinks.

As detailed in the study, the researchers compared each diet with the risk for cardiovascular disease using data from around 170,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study and around 43,000 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

Based on data from several years of follow-ups in the original studies, the researchers found that those who strictly adhered to a healthy diet – such as a Mediterranean diet – had a 14 to 21 percent reduction in their risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to the individuals who were not as consistent at keeping to a healthy diet.

“Although each healthy eating pattern represents a different combination of dietary constituents, our study indicates that greater adherence to any of the four healthy eating patterns we looked at is associated with low risk of cardiovascular disease and the health benefits persist across racial and ethnic groups,” said study lead Zhilei Shan.

According to the study’s corresponding author Frank Hu, their collated data provides evidence to support current dietary guidelines that healthy eating patterns or diets provide long-term health benefits, especially when it comes to cardiovascular disease prevention.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of Mediterranean countries. While there is no single definition of the Mediterranean diet, experts describe it as being high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, fatty fish and olive oil.

One of the healthy eating plans recommended by the Department of Health and Human ServicesDietary Guidelines for Americans to promote health and prevent chronic disease, the Mediterranean diet is also recognized by the World Health Organization as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern. Not only that, but it is also considered to be an “intangible cultural asset” by the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

According to health and nutrition experts, a typical Mediterranean diet is composed of the following:

  • Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
  • Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
  • Moderate portions of dairy products
  • Limited intake of red meat

In addition, those who follow the Mediterranean diet also consume red wine in moderation, as well as engage in moderate physical activities.

One can also swap out specific food items for much healthier options, such as replacing crackers with vegetable sticks, eating organic quinoa instead of rice, using whole-grain tortilla wrappers in place of white bread, and using salsa and hummus instead of fatty mayonnaise.

Other health benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Research into the traditional Mediterranean diet has shown that aside from reducing one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, it can also help reduce one’s risk for other serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes.

In addition, research also shows that people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet may, in fact, live much longer lives and be less likely to put on excess and unhealthy weight.

How can I shift to a Mediterranean diet?

Mediterranean diets are quite easy to follow, and its foods and recipes are quite accessible – no need for gourmet cooking skills and a background in culinary education.

Here are some recipes that you can try:

Grilled chicken with quinoa Greek salad

An authentic and traditional Greek salad filled with tasty, healthy, and nutrient-rich ingredients such as Kalamata olives, feta cheese, tomato and mint, this is the perfect recipe for those days when you want something that’s light on the stomach and yet heavy on the flavor.


  • 225 grams organic quinoa
  • 25 grams butter
  • 1 organic red chili, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 400 grams organic, free-range chicken breast, sliced into mini fillets
  • 1½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 300 grams vine tomato, roughly chopped
  • A handful of pitted black Kalamata olives
  • 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • 100 grams feta cheese, crumbled
  • One small bunch organic mint leaves, chopped
  • Juice and zest of half a lemon


  1. Prepare the quinoa following package instructions. Once cooked, rinse in cold water and drain thoroughly. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the butter, chilli and garlic into a paste. Set aside.
  3. Toss the chicken fillets in 2 teaspoons of the olive oil with some seasoning. Place the chicken pieces in a hot griddle pan and cook for three to four minutes each side or until everything is cooked through.
    Transfer the chicken to a plate, dot with the prepared spicy butter and set aside to melt.
  4. Add the tomatoes, olives, onion, feta and mint into a bowl. Then toss in the cooked quinoa. Add in the remaining olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and season to taste.
  5. Serve with the chicken fillets on top, drizzled with any of the remaining chicken drippings

Traditional Caponata

A wholesome and tasty recipe that originated in Sicily, the caponata is a chunky dish that is often compared to the French ratatouille. Savory and comforting, caponata can be served on top of pizza, as a sauce for pasta, or on top of toasted French or Italian bread slices to make bruschetta.


  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large organic eggplants, cut into 2 cm cubes
  • 2 long shallots, chopped
  • 4 large plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons capers, soaked and rinsed in cold water if salted
  • 50 grams raisin
  • 4 celery sticks, sliced
  • 50 ml red wine vinegar
  • handful toasted pine nuts and basil leaves

For the bruschetta:

  • 8 slices ciabatta
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • 1 garlic clove


  1. Pour the olive oil into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or casserole and place over medium heat.
  2. Once the oil starts to bubble, add the cubed eggplants. Cook for around 15 to 20 minutes or until they are soft.
  3. Scoop the eggplants out of the pan, leaving behind some of the olive oil. Add the shallots and cook for about 5 minutes until they are soft and translucent.
  4. Add the tomatoes and cook them slowly until they break down and form a chunky sauce.
  5. Add the eggplants back to the pan, along with the capers, raisins, celery and vinegar.
  6. Season the mixture well and cover with a lid. Cook over low heat for 40 minutes, or until all the vegetables are soft.
  7. At this point, stir the mixture gently so it does not break up too much.
  8. Set the stew aside once everything is cooked.
  9. Prepare the bruschetta by drizzling the bread with some olive oil
  10. Toast the oiled bread in a griddle pan until lightly charred and grill marks appear on both sides.
  11. Rub with a sliced garlic clove and then add a little salt and pepper.
  12. Just before serving, top the warm caponata with some basil leaves and pine nuts.
  13. Serve the dish with bruschetta on the side.

Mediterranean Oven Roasted Mackerel

Inspired by the rich and delicious flavors of the Mediterranean, this quick and easy mackerel recipe is not only tasty, it’s also filled to overflowing with essential nutrients such as protein, Omega fatty acids and vitamin C.


  • 2 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 organic yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 24-ounce can organic crushed tomatoes, preferably sodium-free
  • ½ cup organic olives, sliced
  • ¼ cup wild capers
  • 1 tablespoon organic paprika
  • 1 teaspoon organic red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 wild-caught mackerel fillets
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Fresh chopped parsley for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onions in olive oil until soft, about 3 minutes.
  3. Once onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute.
  4. Next, add the crushed tomatoes, olives, capers, paprika. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine and cook until heated through — this will take about two minutes.
  5. Remove tomato mixture from heat and set aside.
  6. While the tomato mixture is resting, arrange the mackerel fillets in one large baking dish.
  7. Divide the tomato sauce mixture evenly over the mackerel fillets.
  8. Roast in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. Remove from the oven and leave to rest.
  9. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the roasted fish and garnish with parsley.
  10. Serve and enjoy!

One of the most well-known and well-researched diets in the world, the Mediterranean diet has been linked to several health benefits, most notably on the heart, brain, liver, longevity and even mental health.

Aside from that, what makes it even more appealing is the fact that it is not restrictive in terms of allowed food items, and the ease with which it can be followed. This makes it especially appealing to people who are just starting to explore healthy living.

Sources include:

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