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The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease in women


Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death in women globally, responsible for 35% of all deaths. It is far more common than cancer.

Common risk factors included high blood pressure, high blood lipids, diabetes, smoking and family history. For women, early menopause, pregnancy related pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes are additional risk factors. In addition, heart disease may present differently in females and there has been established gender bias in aggressiveness of active treatment.

The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in several studies. However, most of these studies have been conducted in male populations, and less is known about the diet’s effectiveness in preventing CVD in women.

A new study by Australian researchers published in the British Medical Journal aimed to evaluate the association between a Mediterranean diet and primary prevention of CVD in women. The researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 16 selected studies, including over 700,000 women from various countries and various ethnicities.

The analysis found that a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 24% lower risk of developing CVD  and 23% lower risk of all-cause mortality (death from any cause including heart disease) compared to those with lower adherence to the diet.

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. the reason a Mediterranean style diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease includes its antioxidant and microbiome effects that are closely associated with inflammation and cardiovascular risk factors. Different components of the diet are also important including polyphenols, nitrates, omega-3 fats, high levels of fibre and reduced glycaemic load.

So, what is in a Mediterranean diet?


Here are some of the key components:

  1. Lots of plant-based foods: The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
  2. Healthy fats: Instead of relying on saturated and trans fats, the Mediterranean diet emphasises healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish.
  3. Moderate amounts of dairy and meat: While the Mediterranean diet is not strictly vegetarian, it does limit the intake of red meat and processed meats. Instead, it includes moderate amounts of dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, and lean proteins, such as poultry, fish, and eggs.
  4. Herbs and spices: The Mediterranean diet uses a variety of herbs and spices to add flavour to dishes, instead of relying on salt or sugar.
  5. Red wine in moderation: While not a necessary component of the Mediterranean diet, moderate amounts of red wine are often consumed in the Mediterranean region.

Overall, the Mediterranean diet is a well-balanced and flexible eating pattern that emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods and healthy fats. We can confidently consume a Mediterranean diet with the intention of protecting ourselves from chronic diseases, including heart disease.


What else should we know?


This analysis is the first of its kind exploring what the research says about the cardiovascular benefits of the Mediterranean diet for women. It does not, however, take age into consideration. Additional research (also from Sydney University) proposes that women need to eat more protein as they age to help prevent the decline in lean body mass (muscle and bone). We also need enough protein to prevent appetite drivers which lead to weight creep.

Animal protein is the most bioavailable dietary protein, so limiting meat may result in inadequate overall intake. Take this into consideration when deciding how the benefits of the Mediterranean diet might work for you.



This information is for general educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Please see your health professional for advice that is personalised to you.
Key Take Aways

The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of CVD by 24% in women

Plant-based foods, healthy fats, fish, less meat and less processed foods.