A new, large-scale study with over 7,000 participants (aged 55-80) at high risk of heart disease, has concluded that eating a traditional Mediterranean diet can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death from heart disease among those predisposed to them.*
All study participants had either type 2 diabetes or at least three of the following major risk factors: smoking, hypertension, elevated LDL, low HDL, overweight or obesity, or a family history of premature coronary heart disease.
What is considered a traditional Mediterranean diet?
- High intake of extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables
- Moderate intake of fish and poultry
- Low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets
- And wine in moderation with a meal
Below are excerpts from the New York Times article reporting the research findings:
“About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet…
“The findings, published on The New England Journal of Medicine’s web site on Monday [Feb. 25], were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study [conducted in Spain] ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.
“The diet helped [reduce the risk of major cardiac events in] those following it even though they did not lose weight and most of them were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.**
“The researchers were careful to say in their paper that while the diet clearly reduced heart disease for those at high risk for it, more research was needed to establish its benefits for people at low risk. But [Dr. Ramon Estruch, the lead investigator on the study and a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona,] said he expected it would also help people at both high and low risk, and suggested that the best way to use it for protection would be to start in childhood.”
Do you eat a Mediterranean diet?
The New York Times has posted the survey designed by the study’s researchers in Barcelona. Use it to determine if your current diet is heart healthy. Take the quiz.
Looking for recipes? You can find lots of tasty suggestions for Mediterranean-style dishes you might enjoy on these and other websites:
— Melanie Kolkin
* At the time of enrollment, none of the participants had cardiovascular disease.
** It is important to note that the only health outcome researchers looked at in this study was the effect of the Mediterranean diet on major cardiovascular events (acute myocardial infarction, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes) in high-risk individuals. It did not assess the diet’s affect on the other physical and mental health or quality of life consequences associated with the heart disease risk factors mentioned in paragraph 2. For example, smoking can cause emphysema and various kinds of cancer, while being overweight or obese increases an individual’s risk of developing osteoarthritis, cancer, and complications during pregnancy.
Kolata, G. (2013, February 25). Mediterranean diet shown to ward off heart attack and stroke. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, Covas M-I, D.Pharm., Corella D, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine. Online publication February 25, 2013.
(Image courtesy of USDAgov via Flikr)