A new study published in The American Heart Association’s journal, Stroke, found that eating the Mediterranean Style diet lowered the risk of stroke in women over 40, but not in men.

The Mediterranean-Style Diet

The Mediterranean-style diet was inspired by the diet eaten by people in specific regions of the world, such as, Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, Italy and Greece. In these regions, the people eat locally grown fruits and vegetables, fish and legumes, and drink red wine—in moderation. Because many of the Mediterranean islands and other regions are so remote, these places have not had much access to processed foods. Another difference in the Mediterranean diet—as compared to the Western diet—is that fish and legumes are the primary sources of protein, instead of meat. The diet is also comprised of healthy nuts, and whole grain sourdough (fermented) bread is eaten, instead of highly processed white flour.

The Study
The recent study was one of the largest and longest in duration, to measure the benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet, in its ability to lower risk of stroke.

Seven-day diet diaries were used by the researchers, which reportedly had not been used in such a large study group population before. The 7-day diaries are more accurate than other methods, such as the questionnaires given to the participants, for self-reporting.

Researchers from the Universities of East Anglia, Cambridge and Aberdeen, collaborated on the study, comprised of over 23,000 white adults, aged 40 to 77—from a prior study, called the United Kingdom, Norfolk arm of the multicenter European Prospective Investigation into Cancer study—which occurred over a 17-year time span.

Study participants were divided into 4 groups, ranking low to high, depending on how well each group adhered to the Mediterranean-Style diet. The scientists evaluated the study participants’ diets, then compared their stroke risk.

Study Conclusion

The study participants who were found to receive the most benefits from the Mediterranean-style diet, were women over 40, regardless of hormone replacement therapy, or menopausal status—says the American Heart Association.

The results were as follows:

  • Those (men and women) who most closely followed the Mediterranean-style diet realized a 17% lower risk of stroke, compared to those who did NOT comply with the diet.
  • Women who complied with the diet were 22% less likely to have a stroke.
  • Men who complied with the diet were only 6% less likely to have a stroke.
  • All participants already at high risk for cardiovascular disease (men and women) realized a 13% lower risk of stroke.

According to Ailsa A. Welch, Ph.D., study lead author and professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom, “It is unclear why we found differences between women and men, but it could be that components of the diet may influence men differently than women. We are also aware that different sub-types of stroke may differ between genders. Our study was too small to test for this, but both possibilities deserve further study in the future.”

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“A healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone both young and old,” said Professor Ailsa Welch.

“The American Heart Association recommends a heart-healthy and brain-healthy dietary pattern that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts and limits saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages; this dietary pattern reduces risk factors and risk for heart disease and stroke, “said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., MPH, the American Heart Association’s chief medical officer for prevention and chief of the Association’s Centers for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Sanchez was not involved in the study.


American Heart Association’s journal Stroke: