A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine has revealed that that the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or tree nuts reduces by 30 percent the risk of suffering a cardiovascular death, heart attack or a stroke.
Researchers 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 - with help from personalized advice and group meetings. The third study group ate a "control" diet, which emphasized low-far 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, though, were 28 to 30 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those on the general low-fat diet.
The new study is the first randomized trial of any diet pattern to show benefit among people initially without heart disease.
It's the blend of Mediterranean diet components, and not one particular ingredient, that promotes heart health, say the researchers. It's a combination of what's eaten and what's not eaten.
The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of eating that's low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat (from olive oil), high in fibre and packed with vitamins, minerals and protective phytochemicals. The diet is primarily plant-based with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts eaten daily.
The lead researcher suggested that people seeking to improve their diet start with small changes, such as forgoing meat one or two days a 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.
SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine, online February 25, 2013
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