Eating nuts and olive oil can reduce the risk of a heart attack as much as statins Diet high in fruit, vegetables, fish and nuts is good for your heart
00:42 GMT, 26 February 2013
09:03 GMT, 26 February 2013
Hearty meals: Switching to a Mediterranean diet can cut the risk of a heart attack by a third
Eating a Mediterranean-style diet can cut heart attacks, strokes and death rates in people at high risk of heart disease by as much as a third, research shows.
Changing the balance of foods in a diet can lessen the risk even before heart-related illness strikes, according to a major clinical trial.
Previous studies have compared the effects of the diet on people after they have suffered a heart attack or stroke – with many showing improved heart health.
But this research was the first to rigorously test the effects on a high-risk group.
In fact, the study of around 7,500 people was halted early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it would have been unethical not to recommend the diet to all those taking part.
The diet is high in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and ‘healthy’ fats such as those in olive oil, while low in red meat and dairy products.
In the study, researchers randomly assigned 7,447 people in Spain aged 55 to 80 years who were overweight, smokers, had diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet. More than half were women.
Those on the Mediterranean diets got five servings of fruit and vegetables, and fish three times a week. They were also given either additional olive oil or nuts each day.
They were encouraged to eat white meat rather than red, and legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, at least three times a week.
Those accustomed to drinking were meant to have at least one glass of wine a day with their meals.
They were asked to avoid commercially made cookies, pastries and cakes, and limit their consumption of dairy foods and processed meats.
After an ‘interim analysis’ showing 288 people had an ‘event’ – a heart attack, stroke or died from a heart-related cause – the trial was stopped early after 4.8 years.
Altogether, 3.8 per cent of ‘events’
occurred in the group eating a Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin
olive oil, 3.4 per cent in those on a Mediterranean diet plus nuts, and
4.4 per cent on a low-fat diet.
Overall, people eating a
Mediterranean-style diet were 30 per cent less likely to suffer heart
attack, stroke or heart-related death compared with those on a low-fat
diet, according to the findings published online by the New England
Journal of Medicine.
Keep swimming: The 'Mediterranean dieters' were told to eat fish at least three times a week, improving their health
It is the first time the Mediterranean diet has been put to the test in such a rigorous way – previous research was based on analysing the lifestyle of populations from countries such as France, Greece, Spain and Italy.
Dr Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona, who led the study, said he thought the diet worked because of the entire nutritional package.
But the far-reaching, rapid effect was unexpected, he said. ‘This is actually really surprising to us.’
Professor Rachel Johnson, of the American Heart Association, said the findings were ‘really impressive’.
She added: ‘They did not look at risk factors like cholesterol or hypertension or weight. They looked at heart attacks and strokes and deaths. At the end of the day, that is what really matters.’