Eating a Mediterranean-style diet can cut heart attacks, strokes and death rates in people at high risk of heart disease by as much as a third, research shows.
Changing the balance of foods in a diet can lessen the risk even before heart-related illness strikes, according to a major clinical trial.
Previous studies have compared the effects of the diet on people after they have suffered a heart attack or stroke – with many showing improved heart health.
But this research was the first to rigorously test the effects on a high-risk group.
In fact, the study of around 7,500 people was halted early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it would have been unethical not to recommend the diet to all those taking part.
The diet is high in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and ‘healthy’ fats such as those in olive oil, while low in red meat and dairy products.
In the study, researchers randomly assigned 7,447 people in Spain aged 55 to 80 years who were overweight, smokers, had diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet. More than half were women.
Those on the Mediterranean diets got five servings of fruit and vegetables, and fish three times a week. They were also given either additional olive oil or nuts each day.
They were encouraged to eat white meat rather than red, and legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, at least three times a week.
Those accustomed to drinking were meant to have at least one glass of wine a day with their meals.
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