If the scientific evidence to eat a traditional Mediterranean diet was not already compelling, it just reached that status.

A recent analysis of more than a half million healthy adults showed that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality and overall mortality; a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality; and a reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The diet also has significant impact on a person’s waist circumference, HDL cholesterol levels, triglycerides levels, blood pressure levels and glucose metabolism.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (March 15, 2011), was conducted by scientists from the region where the diet originated. Their study meta-analyzed findings from 50 previous epidemiological studies and clinical trials that had assessed the effect of a Mediterranean diet on metabolic syndrome and its components. Metabolic syndrome is defined as a combination of medical disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The 50 studies tracked a total of 534,906 individuals.

Instead of limiting total fat intake, the Mediterranean diet provides alternate options for the type of fats used. The menu includes monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, nuts and avocados; polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines and trout); and fats from plant sources, like flaxseed. Limiting processed and packaged foods keeps the diet extremely low in unhealthy trans fats, which have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and strokes.

The Mediterranean people use olive oil in almost everything they eat, including pastas, breads, vegetables, salads, fish and even cakes and pastries. A compound in olive oil may reduce inflammation, an outcome that helps prevent conditions like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases and certain cancers.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in abundance in the Mediterranean diet, are bursting with health benefits. Fatty acids have been shown to reduce the incidence of heart attacks, blood clots, hypertension and strokes. Omega-3s may also prevent certain forms of cancer and lower the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer.

Let clients know that while this is a healthy diet, it is possible to consume too many fat calories. Even though these fats are “healthy fats,” they need to be consumed judiciously to avoid weight gain.