A recent study explains that a so-called Mediterranean diet—specifically one high in extra-virgin olive oil—is a great way to keep your heart in good shape.

Mediterranean diet pyramid

The Mediterranean diet, which was first introduced in 1993, emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with limitations on meats, especially red meat. When preparing fruits and vegetables, the less processed the better; in other words, go raw when possible. When you do cook them, use extra-virgin olive oil, which is highest in monounsaturated fat and phytonutrients.

The study reported that users of the high-olive-oil Mediterranean diet had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease, heart attack or stroke than those who stuck to a low-fat diet.

Dr. Ramón Estruch, of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, led the study. He had this to say: "We think the strength of this study comes from the fact that we measured hard outcomes and not just blood pressure or changes in cholesterol levels. We really believe the Mediterranean diet lowers incidence of (heart attack), stroke and cardiovascular deaths."

Within the broader Mediterranean diet, one high in extra-virgin olive oil did slightly better in the study than one high in nuts. Another important factor is exercise, which is considered part of a Mediterranean diet. Eating with groups of people also helps.

Beyond heart health, the Mediterranean diet has been found to lower risk of cancer and cancer mortality, and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Here's a quick look at what comprises a Mediterranean diet:

  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)

More From KEAN 105