Mediterranean diet can ward off heart disease: study

Mediterranean diet

A Mediterranean diet high in olive oil, nuts, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables may help prevent heart disease and strokes, according to a new large study from Spain.

Past research suggested people who eat a Mediterranean-like diet have healthier hearts, but those studies couldn't rule out that other health or lifestyle differences had made the difference.

For the new trial, researchers randomly assigned study volunteers at risk of heart disease to a Mediterranean or standard low-fat diet for five years, allowing the team to single out the effect of diet, in particular.

"This is good news, because we know how to prevent the main cause of deaths - that is cardiovascular disease - with a good diet," said Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez-Gonzalez, who worked on the study at the Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona.

He and colleagues from across Spain assigned almost 7,500 older adults with diabetes or other heart risks to one of three groups.

Two groups were instructed to eat a Mediterranean diet - one supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and the other with nuts, both donated for the study - with help from personalized advice and group meetings. The third study group ate a "control" diet, which emphasized low-fat dairy products, grains and fruits and vegetables.

Over the next five years, 288 study participants had a heart attack or stroke or died of any type of cardiovascular disease.

People on both Mediterranean diets were 28 to 30 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those on the general low-fat diet, the researchers reported Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The new study is the first randomized trial of any diet pattern to show benefit among people initially without heart disease, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, who studies nutrition and cardiovascular disease at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

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