Despite its many purported advantages, the Mediterranean diet might not be all it's cracked up to be. According to a new study in the International Journal of Epidemiology, its effects depend largely on socioeconomic status. Researchers surveyed 19,000 people ages 35 and over in Italy, giving each a score based on how closely they followed the Mediterranean diet, ranging from 1 on the low end up to 6 or more. After just over four years, they found a two-point increase in score meant a 15% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease overall—but not for participants with low incomes and minimal education. While a two-point increase meant a reduced risk of 61% for those with a household income of at least $47,000, and 57% for those with post-secondary education, "no actual benefits were observed for the less advantaged groups," per a release.
Despite similar adherence to the diet, that remained the case after researchers accounted for healthy habits common among the rich, like getting plenty of exercise, avoiding smoking, and making regular visits to the doctor, per HealthDay News. Researchers suspect that's because people with higher education or income tended to eat a greater variety of foods, as well as more whole grains, organic produce, and fish, which can be expensive, per CTV News. They also prepared vegetables in healthier ways. Together, this means they benefited from a "more adequate intake of essential nutrients," says study author Giovanni de Gaetano. He suggests experts should stop promoting the diet "if we are not able to guarantee an equal access to it." (Read about its brain benefits here.)