Mediterranean diet 'cuts stroke and heart attack risk'

26 February 2013

New research adds weight to the growing body of evidence linking a Mediterranean diet to a healthier life.

Lounging leisurely in the sun while enjoying oil-heavy meals and the odd glass of wine might not sound the healthiest diet going, but the Mediterranean diet has been proven to have a number of benefits for our health.

In fact, the diet – meals rich in fish, chicken, fruit and vegetables with plenty of olive oil and nuts and only small amounts of red meat or dairy products – has been shown in a new study to cut by 30 per cent the chances of people at risk of heart attacks or strokes suffering either event or dying of a heart condition.

Many studies have connected the Mediterranean diet to a number of health benefits, including lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, reducing the threat of cancer and helping with weight loss, but evidence linking the diet to a reduced risk of heart problems has been scarce, largely because although many studies have linked people from Med countries - Greece, Spain and Italy – to having lower rates of heart disease, this could be because of factors other than diet.

About the study

The study, in Spain and led by Barcelona University, studied 7,447 men aged 55 to 88 and women aged 60 to 80, all at risk of heart attack or stroke, between 2003 and 2009.

This group was then split into three separate groups who were all asked to follow a different diet: one a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, one a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts), and the other a low-fat diet (animal and vegetable).

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found those assigned to the Mediterranean-type diets had a 30 per cent lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke over five years, than those on the low fat diet.

"The results of our trial might explain, in part, the lower cardiovascular mortality in Mediterranean countries than in northern Europe or the United States," the authors said.

Commenting on the research, Dr Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation said: "This large long-term study shows that eating a Mediterranean diet is associated with heart health benefits, including reductions in heart attack, stroke and deaths from cardiovascular disease.

"While these findings aren't new they add to our knowledge and confidence that a Mediterranean diet can help cut down your cardiovascular risk. A well-balanced diet low in salt, saturated fat and sugar is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle.

"That said, a Mediterranean diet should not replace your prescribed medication."

What makes up a Mediterranean diet?

Mainly plant-based foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts

Fish and poultry

Not using butter but healthy fats like olive oil

Using herbs and spices as an alternative to salt to flavour food

Low in red meat (maybe a few times a month)

Red wine in moderation

Enjoying food as a social occasion – eating with family and friends

Posted by Jeanette Royston

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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