Results of a recent study show that adopting a Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed foods, can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke for heart disease patients. The study also suggests that a moderate consumption of foods associated with a Western diet, like fried foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, may not be as detrimental to heart health as previously believed.
Prior research has proven that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest diets in existence. It has been associated with lower risk of death for cancer and heart disease patients, as well as a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
The new study included 15,482 people from 39 countries around the world. The participants had an average age 67 and all had heart disease. The participants completed a questionnaire detailing their dietary habits. They had to report how many times per week they ate Mediterranean-style foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat, fish, and dairy, and how often they ate Western-style foods, such as red meat, fried food, sugary beverages, and desserts.
The participants’ answers were evaluated and given two scores with point values from 0 to 24. The Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS) represented how often participants ate Mediterranean-style foods, while the Western Diet Score (WDS) represented how often they ate Western-style foods.
The researchers followed up with the study participants almost four years later to observe how many participants had experienced a major adverse cardiovascular event (MACE). MACE includes heart attacks, strokes, or cardiovascular-related deaths.
Participants with higher MDS scores had a lower risk of MACE than participants with high WDS scores. 10.8 percent of participants with an MDS of 12 or lower had experienced MACE. 10.5 percent of participants with an MDS of 13-14 experienced MACE. Only 7.3 percent of participants with an MDS of 15 or higher had experienced MACE. Researchers reported that these results were consistent for each of the 39 countries included in the study.
Perhaps the most surprising result of this study was the lack of correlation between high WDS scores and risk of MACE. Instead, researchers stated that consuming a greater amount of healthy, Mediterranean-style foods was more important in reducing risk of MACE than avoiding unhealthy foods.
Lead author Ralph Stewart cautioned that the results do not suggest that people should eat unhealthy foods in excess. He said that the main takeaway is that healthy foods can reduce risk of heart attack or stroke, and the best thing to do is increase your regular intake of fruits and vegetables.