About 30 percent of heart attacks, stroke and deaths from heart disease can be prevented for high risk individuals by adjusting eating habits to mimic those of Spain, Greece and Italy according to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine this week.
A diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, while low in dairy, sweets and red meats has commonly been referenced as a healthier approach. The new study, conducted by Spanish researchers for almost five years, is the first major clinical trial to measure the diet's effect on cardiovascular risks, The New York Times reported. This Mediterranean method even allows drinking wine with meals.
The study included 7,447 subjects - men and women aged 55 to 80, all at risk for but not diagnosed with heart disease. Subjects either had type 2 diabetes, or at least 3 risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, family history or were smokers. Most of the subjects were already taking blood pressure or diabetes medication to lower their chance for heart disease.
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Subjects were randomly assigned to 3 different groups, one given a low-fat, control diet, one given a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil, and the third given a nut-based Mediterranean diet. The low-fat diet group was found less likely to follow restrictions, perhaps attributed to their lessened counseling at the beginning of the study. This essentially transformed the study to the usual, modern Northern European or American eating habits against the Mediterranean diet. Subjects experienced quarterly checkups and were provided either olive oil, nuts, or nonfood gift items accordingly.
The magnitude of the study shocked and impressed experts. Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, told The New York Times that the study "used very meaningful endpoints. They did not look at risk factors...They looked at heart attacks and strokes and death. At the end of the day, that's what really matters."
Even if no weight loss was detected, the diet was proven to help lower health risks. The study even ended ahead of schedule, as the results were so clear that it was decided unethical to continue.
Dr. Ramon Esturch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona and his colleagues were so impressed with the results of their study that they themselves reportedly are now following the diet.