Mediterranean diet best for hypertension, study finds

We’ve known it’s good for you for a long time, but a meta-analysis of more than 20 years of data has shown once and for all just how beneficial the Mediterranean diet is for your heart.

Heart disease and associated conditions like heart attack and stroke remain among the leading causes of death for Australians of all ages, but particularly older ones.

There are many factors that go into your heart health. Genetics play a large role but so do lifestyle factors like diet, exercise and smoking status.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading risk factor for heart conditions. It’s predominantly caused by eating a high-sodium diet but is also influenced by your exercise levels and genetic factors. Consistently high blood pressure can lead to damage to the arteries and organs.

Study after study has shown keeping your salt intake to a minimum is the key to keeping hypertension in check, and they’ve found the best way to do that is by sticking to the Mediterranean diet.

Now, an analysis of more than 20 years’ worth of data has confirmed it really is the best diet of all for your heart.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

For the uninitiated, the Mediterranean diet is a mostly plant-based diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as unprocessed nuts, cereals and legumes.

It’s not totally vegetarian and encourages moderate consumption of fish and poultry, eggs, and dairy products cooked in olive oil.

Red meat, sweets and other processed foods should only be consumed sparingly, if at all.

The Mediterranean diet gets its name from its popularity in southern Europe, particularly Greece, Italy and Spain. Researchers first noted in the 1960s people were living longer and had better overall cardiovascular health in this region compared to virtually everywhere else.

Since then, it has consistently been ranked as one of, if not the best diet for your overall health.

This is why the results of this latest study should come as no surprise.

What did the study show?

Published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study was conducted by a team of researchers from some of Greece’s top universities and hospitals.

They were looking at how effective the Mediterranean diet was at reducing hypertension over a period of 20 years.

The team analysed 1,415 adults aged between 30 and 50, with just over half being women. Genetic, lifestyle, and clinical factors were evaluated at baseline.

The group was also scored at baseline for ‘adherence to the Mediterranean diet’, and again at the 10-year mark.

They were scored using the MedDietScore, a rating system specifically designed to measure how closely someone is sticking to the Mediterranean diet by giving them a rating between 0 and 55 (higher numbers indicate closer adherence to the diet).

The results showed participants who followed the Mediterranean diet the closest had the lowest risk of developing hypertension (8.7 per cent).

Heart healthy

Participants with the lowest MedDietScore – and therefore were the poorest at adhering to the diet – had hypertension rates of 35.5 per cent by the end of the study.

Cardiologist Dr Cheng-Han Chen spoke to Medical News Today about the study’s results and what they said about the diet.

“In this long-term prospective study, stronger adherence to a Mediterranean diet was found to be associated with a lower incidence of developing hypertension,” he said.

“These results support the use of the Mediterranean diet as a heart-healthy eating pattern that can be beneficial to heart health.”

However, he did point out the study had some limitations, mainly that the study participants were all from the same ethnic group.

“This study was conducted in a homogeneous population (specifically Greek adults), and it is not certain that the results would translate to a more diverse population,” he noted.

That may be so, but the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are already so well known that it is recommended by both Dietitians Australia and the Heart Foundation as suitable for Aussies.

How often do you eat fresh fruit and vegetables? How often do you eat red meat? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Can eating a Mediterranean diet reduce dementia risk?

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.


  1. More myths over the Mediterranean diet.

    Firstly, there’s no mention of the steep slopes in and around the villages surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The Sardinian steps are well researched as contributing to the longevity of those who walked them daily.

    Next, dairy? Mediterranean? But they did not raise cattle nor had pastures which would have supported them. The Med diet included milk products from goat’s milk and unpasteurized at that.

    In the pic we see Atlantic salmon which are a pellagic species of oceans, not confined waters with little for the fish to eat and no significant rivers in which to breed. They were likely to be in a smaller area on the Iberian Peninsula and so the Med diet might be better termed the Spanish and Portugeuse Diet.

    And olive oil was not used for stir-frying which has made its way from Asian kitchens and into most cuisine styles now. Olive oil has a pretty poor smoke point and forms trans-fats when heated up to this temperature. Avocado oils is vastly superior if the omega-6 oils in peanut oil puts you off the Chinese staple stir-fry oil.

    Carrot too were introduced from the Americas and it was the Dutch royalty who saw the first, locally bred orange vegetable before this spread all over Europe. Before this, carrots were purple or white.

    And cauliflower? Sure, the Romans ate an insignificant-looking (but highly nutritious) forb
    which is now called Brassica oleracea by botanists. We know it for the variants (mutants?) akin to the X-Men but created by agronomists from that lowly herb through exposure to toxins, radiation and all sorts of abuse that nearly kills the plant but induced mutant forms that we now eat as broccoli, broccolini, kale, Kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, gai lan and yes, cauliflower too.

    I could go on but the reality is that the villagers had a relatively stress-free, active lifestyle and significantly augmented their nutrition with around 300 different foraged (wild) foods that grew around the Med.

    This was the true Med Diet, not some fabricated fiction akin to paleo diets which are way our of date too. No foods of paleo quality left in these nutritionally deplete, health-compromised times.

    It is high time that dietitians and nutritionists caught up with recent research on the superior nutritional properities and particularly the richness of phytonutrients that wild foods bought to the true Med Diet.

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