Heart disease is a serious condition and continues to be the leading cause of death in Australia with one person dying every 18 minutes of heart disease, which equates to about 80 Australians dying of heart disease every day1.
People who smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, are abdominally obese, or have a family history of heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease.
An extensive worldwide study including 30,000 people with and without heart disease from 52 countries around the world has shown that over 90 percent of heart disease is preventable with healthy diet and lifestyle habits such as not smoking, exercising regularly, and consuming a diet rich in plant foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables2.
A panel of medical experts, dietitians and health professionals recently ranked the Mediterranean diet to be the healthiest diet overall compared to 39 other diets for the fourth year running (as reported by US News). This dietary pattern scored #1 for the best plant-based diet, easiest diet to follow and best diet for healthy eating, heart health and diabetes3.
The traditional Greek Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet rich in fresh leafy green vegetables and tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, fresh and dried fruit, nuts and seeds, fish and seafood, whole grain sourdough bread, fermented dairy foods such as feta cheese and yoghurt, and small portions of free range lean meat and chicken and eggs, and extra virgin olive oil as the main fat.
In addition to this, the therapeutic effects of the olive tree and its products such as the olive fruit, the oil or juice of the olive fruit, and the leaves have been used for centuries in traditional medicine for heart health, diabetes, inflammation and multiple other conditions. The olive leaf contains phenolic compounds, in particular hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein. In higher concentrations, the evidence from animal studies has shown that olive leaf extract has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.4.
Ten easy steps towards a cardioprotective Mediterranean diet and lifestyle:
- Use extra virgin olive oil as your main culinary fat in all your cooking and in dressing salads and cooked vegetables;
- Consume fresh vegetables, including leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, garlic and fresh herbs in abundance;
- Try to include two serves of oily fish per week such as salmon or sardines;
- Have fresh fruits for dessert or snacks in between meals and include berries and citrus fruits and try dressing your salads with lemon juice in place of salt;
- Include fermented dairy foods like natural (unflavoured) yoghurt every day and spice up your salads with crumbled feta cheese;
- Try two meatless days per week by using legumes in your salads, soups and cooked dishes in place of meat;
- Use wholegrain sourdough bread and try wholemeal pasta or brown rice to boost fibre;
- Keep healthy snacks on hand such as nuts, especially walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios, and seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower seeds preferably in the shell for that authentic eating experience;
- Enjoy sweets on special occasions and try your hand at baking using healthy ingredients such as nuts, seeds, dried or fresh fruit especially berries and citrus fruits, spices and natural honey;
- Take olive leaf extract daily, in either liquid or capsule form
And don’t forget the basics:
- Avoid smoking
- Keep physically active
- Maintain a healthy weight (and a healthy waist)!
- Keep a check on your cardiovascular risk factors by visiting your GP
- Heart Foundation. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/about-us/australia-heart-disease-statistics
- Yusuf et al. (2004). Effect of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with myocardial infarction in 52 countries (the INTERHEART study): case-control study. Lancet (London, England), 364(9438), 937–952. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(04)17018-9
- US News. (2020). Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/mediterranean-diet
- Lockyer, S., Corona, G., Yaqoob, P., Spencer, J. P., & Rowland, I. (2015). Secoiridoids delivered as olive leaf extract induce acute improvements in human vascular function and reduction of an inflammatory cytokine: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. The British journal of nutrition, 114(1), 75–83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114515001269