We now have an excuse to gorge on Greek food: new research has revealed the positive health benefits for the heart of Mediterranean cooking.

As a leading cause of death in Australia, heart disease is a major health concern. Now long-term nutritional studies have found that a Mediterranean diet can actually decrease your risk.

The PREDIMED studies, led by Spanish researcher Dr Ramón Estruch, has found that extra-virgin olive oil or nuts provides positive health outcomes for the heart. The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) will present the international research in Brisbane at their 31st National conference, during the second world forum for nutrition research on Wednesday May 14.

The Mediterranean diet is based on the high consumption of extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, and has resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in approximately three major cardiovascular events per 1000 person-years among the high-risk persons taking part in the study.

Marta Guash-Ferré, who will be presenting research that has been published in the open access journal BMC Medicine, says the Mediterranean diet is not ‘low fat’ or ‘kilojoule restricted’, and does allow for moderate consumption of alcohol (mostly wine).

DAA CEO Claire Hewat says people with a high-risk of heart disease can reduce their risk by making small dietary and lifestyle changes with the assistance of an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

“Dietitians are ideally positioned to tailor eating plans which include olive oil and nuts to promote heart health. These foods are well supported by the PREDIMED study series,” Ms Hewat said.

The studies began in October 2003 and to date have had nearly 7000 participants with high cardiovascular risk.

If you’re interested in trying the Mediterranean diet, consult your dietitian for advice on your dietary needs.