- The Mediterranean diet may help women stay heart healthy, according to a new study.
- Women on this plant-based diet low in red meat had a 25% reduced risk of heart disease and death.
- The diet’s antioxidant properties and microbiome effects help reduce inflammation throughout the body.
A new study has found that sticking with the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on a diet high in healthy fats, plants and lean meats, can boost heart health, especially in women.
Following the plant-based diet may reduce a woman’s risk of heart disease and death by 25%, the analysis, published in the journal Heart Tuesday, found.
Nearly a third of deaths among women are caused by heart disease and yet the majority of clinical trials evaluating healthy diet as a prevention method have primarily been conducted in men.
This is the first systematic review looking at the relationship between heart disease risk and the Mediterranean diet in women.
While the current guidance on heart disease prevention is the same for all genders, the researchers hope the findings will help better inform steps that women, specifically, can take to lower their risk of heart disease.
“While there has been much known about the advantages of a Mediterranean diet, it’s powerful to see the robust benefit that women can derive from this nutritional pattern,” Dr. Sabrina Islam, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and a cardiologist at Temple University Hospital, told Healthline.
The Mediterranean diet can significantly cut the risk of heart disease
The researchers analyzed 16 studies conducted between 2003 and 2021 that evaluated the heart benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
Over 700,000 women were included in the studies whose heart health was monitored for an average of 12.5 years.
The team found that the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 24% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 23% lower risk of death from any cause in women.
The risk of coronary heart disease was also 25% lower and women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet had a slightly lower risk of stroke.
The researchers hope the findings will lead to further research that’ll help inform sex-specific clinical guidance to improve women’s heart health.
Dr. Wafi Momin, a cardiologist with UTHealth Houston Heart & Vascular and Memorial Hermann, says heart disease is the leading cause of death across the globe but the condition is under-recognized and potentially even under-treated in women.
“Focusing on heart health is key for women to help prevent cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke,” said Momin.
Why the Mediterranean diet is so heart healthy
A healthy diet is considered to be one of the most effective strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease.
The Mediterranean diet, in particular, is regularly associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
The diet’s antioxidant properties and microbiome effects help reduce inflammation throughout the body.
“Inflammation is a process that can wreak havoc in the body and most importantly from a cardiac standpoint promote buildup of plaque in our blood vessels that can lead to heart disease such as atherosclerotic coronary disease,” Momin said.
The diet is also packed with polyphenols, which may protect the lining of the heart and blood vessels, improve cholesterol levels, and promote anti-platelet activity.
Nitrates, which widen the blood vessels and improve blood flow, are also a component of the Mediterranean diet.
The diet also has a low glycemic load, which is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Lastly, the Mediterranean diet is packed with omega-3 fats and plant-based fiber that help lower bad cholesterol levels and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries.
“Keeping a low fat, low sugar, high fiber diet combined with a moderate intake of healthy proteins helps to maintain a healthy metabolic profile, which can reduce the development of cardiovascular disease,” said Islam.
Tips for following the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is centered around plant-based foods — like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and extra-virgin olive oil.
Momin says most people already eat the majority of foods that the Mediterranean diet promotes.
“It is just a matter of focusing on eating more vegetables, fruits as well as grains,” says Momin.
Islam recommends replacing processed foods and saturated fats with fresh fruits, vegetables, healthier monounsaturated fats, and seafood.
She also suggests limiting added sugars and red meats and eating a few servings of seafood each week.
Dietary modifications can be an effective way to prevent heart disease, and as more people become aware of the heart-healthy benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet, hopefully more women will be able to lower their risk of heart disease.
“With ongoing campaigns to raise awareness of the risk of heart disease in women as well as studies, such as these to increase knowledge on actionable preventive measures, we can impact the degree of heart disease in women,” Islam said.
The bottom line:
Another study has found that the Mediterranean diet can boost heart health, especially in women. According to the analysis, which is the first systematic report to look at how the plant-based diet impacts women’s risk of cardiovascular disease, the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart disease in women by 24% and lower their risk of death by 23%.
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