The list of so-called “science-backed diets” is ever-growing, and includes everything from the ketogenic diet to intuitive eating. But according to a team of cardiologists and internists, evidence indicates one dietary approach is better than the rest: the Pesco-Mediterranean diet.
In a recent review of decades of research on the diet, researchers outline why going Pesco-Mediterranean is “ideal” for health and longevity.
This diet is associated with a myriad of health effects: lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, depression, and some cancers.
When paired with intermittent fasting or “time-restricted eating,” the review authors argue these dietary choices gives people the chance to prevent and potentially reverse chronic diseases.
“This dietary strategy has the best evidence for reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, cardiac death, and premature mortality,” James O’Keefe, lead author of the study and director of preventive cardiology at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, tells Inverse.
“If you’re interested in health and longevity, this is your best bet.”
The review was published Monday in the Journal of American College of Cardiology.
Modern diet, ancient traditions — The traditional Mediterranean diet is “not a fad diet,” O’Keefe stresses. In fact, people living off the coast of the Mediterranean sea have been eating this way for centuries, and exhibit some remarkable health outcomes.
The Mediterranean diet includes an abundance of:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Whole Grains
- Fish and seafood
The diet also includes a moderate amount of dairy and alcohol, as well as little consumption of red meat.
“We find it a very easy diet to stick with because it tastes good and it does really improve health and vitality,” O’Keefe says.
Decades ago, after observing communities living in the so-called Mediterranean “blue zone,” researchers started studying the particular physiological and mental health effects of the Mediterranean diet. This review outlines the multiple diet studies and clinical trials that have examined how this diet, along with periodic fasting, actually works.
“We find it a very easy diet to stick with … “
After combing through this massive data set, researchers found some stunning results: Across the board, the Mediterranean diet appears to help protect the heart and stave off health issues like metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, depression, breast and colorectal cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also shown to lower the risk of early death from any cause.
“Arguably diet is the most important variable for long term health from a cardiovascular standpoint, but also for general health,” O’Keefe says. The Pesco-Mediterranean diet is “the science-based approach” to an ideal diet for health and well being, especially from a cardiovascular standpoint, he says.
What the studies suggest — In a 2018 randomized controlled trial examining cardiovascular disease prevention in high-risk elderly individuals, people consuming the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts had a 29 percent reduced risk of major adverse cardiovascular events and death from these causes. The group also had a 42 percent lower risk of stroke.
When extra fish is added in, there are even better outcomes. A meta-analysis of five prospective dietary studies found that compared to regular meat-eaters, heart disease mortality was 34 percent lower in those following a pescatarian diet.
The same goes for nuts: Randomized controlled trials suggest that diets enriched with nuts produce cardiometabolic benefits including improvements in insulin sensitivity, LDL cholesterol, and inflammation.
“This is not a diet that’s going away,” O’Keefe says. “This is the future of the eating pattern with respect to what’s ideal for health, especially cardiovascular health, but also if you’re trying to keep a sharp mind and prevent depression, obesity, diabetes, osteoarthritis, all those kinds of things.”