Fish, fresh fruits, olives, nuts and vegetables are the extensively used ingredients in Mediterranean diet and can cut the risk of heart disease by 47 percent, claim researchers.
According to a study conducted in Greece, adults who closely followed the diet were less likely to develop heart disease over a 10-year period compared to similar adults who did not closely follow the diet, and adherence to the Mediterranean diet was more protective than physical activity.
Ekavi Georgousopoulou, a Ph.D. candidate at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece, said that the study shows that the Mediterranean diet is a beneficial intervention for all types of people-in both genders, in all age groups, and in both healthy people and those with health conditions. It also reveals that the diet has direct benefits for heart health, in addition to its indirect benefits in managing diabetes, hypertension and inflammation.
The study is based on data from a representative sample of more than 2,500 Greek adults, ages 18 to 89, who provided researchers with their health information each year from 2001 to 2012. Participants also completed in-depth surveys about their medical records, lifestyle and dietary habits at the start of the study, after five years and after 10 years.
Overall, nearly 20 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women who participated in the study developed or died from heart disease, a suite of conditions that includes stroke, coronary heart disease caused by the buildup of plaque in the heart's arteries, acute coronary syndromes such as heart attack, and other diseases. Other studies have shown Greeks and Americans have similar rates of heart disease and its risk factors.
While there is no set Mediterranean diet, it commonly emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and even a glass of red wine. Earlier research has shown that following the traditional Mediterranean diet is linked to weight loss, reduced risk of diabetes, lower blood pressure and lower blood cholesterol levels, in addition to reduced risk of heart disease.
The study was limited to participants living in and around Athens, Greece, so the sample does not necessarily reflect the health conditions or dietary patterns of people in more rural areas or the rest of the world. However, previous studies have also linked the Mediterranean diet with reduced cardiovascular risks, including the Nurses' Health Study, which included nearly 75,000 American nurses who were tracked over a 30-year period. Additional studies in other adult populations would further advance understanding of the diet's influence on heart disease risk.
The study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.