Is the Mediterranean diet all it’s cracked up to be?

Heavily touted for its ability to slow cognitive decline and boost cardiovascular health, the Mediterranean diet—chock full of fruits, veggies, fish, whole grains, and olive oil—may not be for everyone.

Despite its numerous benefits, this diet may not be as effective for individuals with low income. A new study out of Italy found that the Mediterranean diet only benefitted those who were well-off or highly educated.

“In other words, a person from low socioeconomic status who struggles to follow a Mediterranean model, is unlikely to get the same advantages of a person with higher income,” explains Marialaura Bonaccio from the IRCCS Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy, “despite the fact that they both similarly adhere to the same healthy diet.”

The researchers tracked participants for an average of four years, and found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 60 per cent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease. However, this only extended to those who had an education beyond high school, or a household income greater than $60,000 annually.

The team found that while all participants consumed the same amount of food, the breakdown of what they ate and the quality of ingredients differed based on their socioeconomic circumstances.

“We cannot be keeping on [saying] that the Mediterranean diet is good for health if we are not able to guarantee an equal access to it,” says researcher Giovanni de Gaetano.

“Although the authors of this study suggest that the Mediterranean diet may be less effective in reducing heart disease in less well-off people, this is likely to be due to other differences between low and high income groups, rather than the diet not being effective,” adds Tim Chico, an expert in cardiovascular medicine from the University of Sheffield. “These findings should not put anyone off a Mediterranean diet; this is still the best option for reducing risk of heart disease.”

That being said, says Chico, no one diet offers a quick fix—individuals must also not smoke, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight to see real results.