The Harvard study targeted more than 25,000 women with follow-up periods that lasted as long as 12 years. The participants provided samples of their blood and completed surveys regarding the food they consumed.
Based on the results of the food intake surveys, the researchers noted a correlation between an adherence to the Mediterranean diet and the chances of heart disease. Women who closely followed the healthy diet were 25 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disorders compared to those who didn't eat healthy food.
Analysis of the blood samples identified old and new biomarkers for heart disease. The researchers also noted differences in inflammation levels, the breakdown of glucose, and the effectiveness of insulin. (Related: 11 Delicious Key Ingredients that Make The Mediterranean Diet So Nutritious.)
Based on their intake of foods found in the Med diet, the participants of the Harvard study could be divided into low, medium, and high groups. All three groups were observed over the course of many years to determine their risk for heart disease as they grew older.
Compared to the members of the low group, the women who ate medium amounts of Mediterranean diet foods displayed 23 percent lower risk of developing heart problems. Meanwhile, the ones who ate high amounts of healthy food enjoyed a 28 percent reduction of health risk.
According to the researchers, the average reduced risk of heart disease for the healthy dieters could match the effectiveness of specialized cardio-protective pharmaceutical drugs. Of course, the Mediterranean diet is all-natural and has none of the known harmful side effects of drugs.
At first glance, the results appear to be only applicable for women. The study derived its data from the Women's Health Study database, which is made up of female health professionals who are arguably more aware of their health.
However, the Harvard researchers pointed out earlier studies on the Mediterranean diet that involved male participants as well as females. Those studies showed that men experienced the same health benefits as women. So the findings of their new study could be applicable to men as well.
The Mediterranean diet is comprised of foods that are naturally found and grown in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It includes fresh fish, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains. The diet also allows the consumption of healthy fats, which can be easily provided by avocado and olive oil.
Nutrition experts suggest that people eat these healthy foods at least once or twice per week. It goes without saying that organically-grown and freshly-harvested foods are the way to maximize the nutrients and health benefits.
At the same time, dieters should refrain from eating unhealthy or unsuitable foods. In addition to red meat, refined carbohydrates, and foods that taste sweet or contain lots of sugar, dairy products are also not recommended.
Practitioners of the Mediterranean diet can also partake of red wine. One five-ounce glass is the limit for women, while men can get away with a second glass and no more than that.
Many people, men and women both, take up the Mediterranean diet to get thinner. The Harvard study shows that dieters could improve their body mass index by as much as 27.3 percent. However, its best effect is preventing heart disease, the most dangerous killer for men and women alike.