The risk fo heart attack and stroke could be prevented if people followed a Mediterranean diet, says a major study of the UK's eating habits.
Earlier studies have shown the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, rich is olive oil and fruits and vegetables. The current study gathered data from the UK population about eating habits. The researchers gathered data among nearly 24,000 people in Norfolk over an average of 12 to 17 years.
‘Cutting back on sugary, fatty and salty food and drinks and being mindful of calories to help protect your heart and general health.’
The researchers found that 12.5% of heart attack and stroke deaths that occurred could have been prevented. About 19,000 deaths averted out of the 155,000 that occur as a result of heart disease every year.
Dr Nita Forouhi, lead author from the Medical Research Council epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge, said: "We estimate that 3.9% of all new cardiovascular disease cases or 12.5% of cardiovascular deaths in our UK-based study population could potentially be avoided if this population increased their adherence to the Mediterranean diet."
The Mediterranean diet includes a lot of fruit and vegetables, olive oil, nuts, legumes, some fish and dairy and little red and processed meat. It also includes a small amount of red wine.
The study showed that those with higher scores - more elements of the Mediterranean diet in their daily meals - were less likely to get heart disease and to die as a result of it after taking into account other problematic factors such as smoking, weight and physical activity.
"It is very much more a balance across the range of foods available to us," said Forouhi.
People who have have heart disease are already recommended to follow a Mediterranean diet in the UK. The new study shows it is helpful for everyone else as well, said Forouhi.
Dr Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, said: "The Mediterranean-style diet in this study is in fact similar to official UK advice, as shown in the Eatwell Guide. We also recommend cutting back on sugary, fatty and salty food and drinks and being mindful of calories to help protect your heart and general health."