What Is The Mediterranean Diet? Inside The 'Miracle' Heart Disease-Reducing Plan

The Mediterranean diet drastically reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes, according to a major new study released Monday, and interest in the eating plan has exploded as word about its health benefits has made the rounds.

But many people still know little about the diet, which has piqued the attention of doctors, dietitians, health nuts and casual observers in light of the revelations about its benefits to those who follow it.

Described by some observers as a "miracle" plan, the Mediterranean diet's concept and name are both based on the eating habits of many folks in communities on the Mediterranean Sea in countries like Italy and Spain.

And unlike commercial dieting fads like the Atkins Diet or Weight Watchers, the Mediterranean diet doesn't require the purchase of special foods, fancy books, meal plans or any other extraneous products.

It's simply a set of guidelines for eating healthy, and it has been proven via a study published Monday on the website of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine to reduce incidences of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease among high-risk populations.

The diet advises its adherents to eat and drink a number of foods and beverages that are popular in those regions. These items are listed below, along with the minimum quantity of each that followers of the Mediterranean diet are advised to consume each week, as outlined in the groundbreaking study:

- Four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil- Seven ounces of nuts including walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts- 21 servings of fruit- 14 servings of vegetables- Three meals containing fish- Three meals containing legumes (beans, peas, etc.)- Seven glasses of wine

Beyond the suggested daily food intake, the diet also lays out a number of other ways for dieters to change their habits. It advises participants to shun commercially made sweets and red meat, and to limit the amounts of processed meat and dairy they consume.

Frequent dieters will see that the Mediterranean diet is not particularly restrictive, and some experts see that fact as one of its biggest benefits. It's a plan that allows its disciples to eat a wide range of good, tasty foods, rather than cutting out huge swaths of the food spectrum, an approach which leads many dieters to relapse, often reversing the benefits they may have attained throughout their period of monitoring their consumption.

“Now along comes this group and does a gigantic study in Spain that says you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent,” Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, told the New York Times. “And you can actually enjoy life.”

The new study was reported on by a wide swath of media organizations from CNN to Forbes because it is not just another fad. Instead it is proof that you can reduce your chance of dying from a number of preventable conditions by following a few basic rules and suggestions.

Since there is no one definition of the Mediterranean diet, the study -- conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Ramón Estruch of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona -- divided its participants into groups.

One group ate a traditional low-fat diet, another ate a Mediterranean diet high in extra-virgin olive oil, and a third group ate a Mediterranean diet high in nuts.

Over the five-year course of the study, the olive oil consumers reduced the rate of heart disease deaths by 30 percent versus the adherents to the low-fat diet, while the nut-consumers reduced their rate versus the low-fat dieters by 28 percent.

So what are you waiting for? It's high time to eat like the Mediterranean.

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