The virtues of the Mediterranean diet have long been extolled but new research confirms that the favoured diet of Spaniards is the best for a healthy heart – and following it could mean you can enjoy the odd guilt-free burger or kebab.
The study, published in the European Heart Journal, showed that eating a Mediterranean diet was associated with a lower risk of heart attacks, but also highlighted that eating a fatty, sugary, more “Western” diet, did not increase the risk.
The study, carried out with 15,000 people across 39 countries, confirmed that the classic Mediterranean diet – fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish and olive oil – can help to prevent heart attacks and cardiovascular disease in those who have already have heart disease.
There were three fewer heart attacks, strokes or deaths per 100 people among those following a Mediterranean diet than those following a less healthy diet.
Researchers asked 15,482 people with heart disease with the average age of 67 to fill out a questionnaire when they joined the study. The questionnaire included questions on diet, including how many times a week participants ate meat, fish, dairy, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, desserts etc.
Depending on their answers they were given a Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS) which gave more points to those eating more healthy food with a range of 0-24.
“We found that every one unit increase in the Mediterranean Diet Score was associated with a seven percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death from cardiovascular or other causes in patients with existing heart disease,” said Ralph Stewart of Auckland City Hospital, University of Auckland, who authored the study.
“In contrast, greater consumption of foods thought be less healthy and more typical of Western diets, was not associated with an increase in these adverse events, which we had not expected.”
He continued: “The research suggests we should place more emphasis on encouraging people with heart disease to eat more healthy foods, and perhaps focus less on avoiding unhealthy foods.”