The Mediterranean diet has been named the best overall diet for the fifth year in a row by U.S. News & World Report

The Mediterranean diet has been named the best overall diet for the fifth year in a row by U.S. News & World Report. It also ranked first in the categories of best diet for healthy eating, easiest diet to follow, best diet for diabetes, best plant-based diet, and best heart-healthy diet (it tied for the #1 spot).

It’s no secret that the Mediterranean diet is loaded with health benefits! Rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats (such as olive oil), the Mediterranean diet is inspired by the eating habits of people who live near the Mediterranean Sea. In the mid-20th century, it was noted that people living in Crete, Greece, and southern Italy had a low rate of chronic disease and above-average life expectancy, despite their limited access to health care. It turned out, their diet—primarily plant-based with very little dairy or red meat—contributed significantly to their health and longevity.

Diet is critically important to heart health! The Mediterranean diet has been shown to significantly improve heart health. In multiple clinical trials, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. A study of nearly 26,000 women showed that those who followed a Mediterranean diet had 25% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the course of 12 years. In another study, people who followed the Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil were 30% less likely to experience a heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes than people who followed a low-fat diet. That’s pretty astounding! Additionally, people who adhere to the Mediterranean diet have been shown to achieve sustained weight loss and better glucose control.

The Mediterranean diet tied with the Ornish diet for the #1 heart-healthy diet, and the DASH diet was ranked 3rd. Diets other than the Mediterranean diet can benefit the heart in different ways. If you’re not familiar with the Ornish diet, it was named for the American physician and researcher Dean Michael Ornish, known for his approach to controlling coronary artery disease and other chronic diseases. The Ornish diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and small amounts of nonfat dairy while avoiding simple carbohydrates, saturated fats, and the majority of meat-based proteins. The Ornish diet has been clinically proven in randomized controlled trials to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients who adhere to one of the more restrictive versions of the plan.

Originally designed to help control blood pressure, the DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. It emphasizes the reduced intake of sodium, beverages with added sugar, saturated fat, and red meat, and the increased intake of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber, which are associated with lower blood pressure. The DASH diet has been shown to lower blood pressure as effectively as taking medication for stage 1 hypertension. However, it has fewer clinically proven benefits than the Mediterranean diet.

It is great to see the Mediterranean diet on top again. I have been recommending it to my patients for many years. Since US News & World Report first published the Mediterranean diet’s ranking as the #1 best diet years ago, I have been encouraging others to make it a lifestyle choice. Offering an abundance of health benefits for people of all ages, the Mediterranean diet is what I follow and recommend for my own family, friends, and patients. It’s one of the most effective, natural ways to reduce heart attacks and strokes, and also the risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression, and breast cancer.

There are many diet options out there, but keep in mind that it truly matters what macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) you choose to eat. Most diets that lead to effective weight loss and provide significant health benefits are those that emphasize the intake of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats while limiting the intake of simple sugars and saturated/trans fats. If you’re thinking about trying the Mediterranean diet, I suggest consulting the Mediterranean diet pyramid, which will help you determine how much of each type of food to incorporate into your daily meals.

As we begin a new year, consider what the Mediterranean diet can do for your heart health. It is the #1 easiest diet to follow because it is a lifestyle rather than a strict regimen. Plus, the cuisine from the region is delicious!


Until Next Time!

Stephanie Coulter, MD

More on the diet from the USNews & World Report

Thank you to Nicole Stancel, PhD, ELS(D) for her contributions to this issue of Straight Talk.