Mediterranean diet can ward off heart disease: study

Mediterranean diet

NOT DUE TO SINGLE INGREDIENT

It's the blend of Mediterranean diet components - not one particular ingredient - that promotes heart health, according to Martinez-Gonzalez.

"The quality of fat in the Mediterranean diet is very good," he told Reuters Health. "This good source of calories is replacing other bad sources of calories. In addition, there is a wide variety of plant foods in the Mediterranean diet," including legumes and fruits as desserts, Martinez-Gonzalez added.

"I think it's a combination of what's eaten and what's not eaten," agreed Mozaffarian, who wasn't involved in the new research.

"Things that are discouraged are refined breads and sweets, sodas and red meats and processed meats," he told Reuters Health. "The combination of more of the good things and less of the bad things is important."

Martinez-Gonzalez suggested people seeking to improve their diet start with small changes, such as forgoing meat one or two days per week, cooking with olive oil and drinking red wine with meals rather than hard alcohol.

Replacing a high-carbohydrate or high-saturated fat snack with a handful of nuts is also a helpful change, said Teresa Fung, a nutrition researcher at Simmons College in Boston who also wasn't on the study team.

"All of these steps are making, at the end of the day, a big difference," Martinez-Gonzalez said.

Fung pointed out many people in the new trial were already on medications, such as statins and diabetes drugs.

"The way I see it is, even if people are on medication already, diet has substantial additional benefit," she told Reuters Health.

That's likely the case for people without heart risks - including high blood pressure or cholesterol - as well, Fung added.

"This is a high-risk group, but I don't think people should wait until they become high-risk in order to change," she said.

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