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Jun 15, 2016

Mediterranean Diet Helps Protect Against Heart Attack and Stroke

Researchers highlight the importance of choosing wholesome foods rather than avoiding nutrient-poor foods.

The Mediterranean diet helps protect patients with heart disease against heart attack and stroke, based on results of a global trial recently published in the European Heart Journal.

Known as the STABILITY trial (Stabilization of atherosclerotic plaque by initiation of darapladib therapy), this study tested a new heart drug in nearly 15,500 patients with stable heart disease. As part of the study, participants reported their consumption of common foods like fruits, vegetables, meat and alcohol through detailed questionnaires. Participants were then assigned dietary scores ranging from 1-24 based on adherence to typical Mediterranean and Western diets.

In general, the Mediterranean diet is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fish, includes moderate alcohol intake and limits meat consumption. The Western diet, on the other hand, is heavy in fried foods, refined grains, sweets and desserts, and sugary drinks.

After following participants for nearly four years, researchers found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet significantly reduced risk for heart attack, stroke and death. Overall, there were one-third fewer heart events and deaths among patients with high Mediterranean diet scores (15 or higher) compared to participants with scores below 15. After taking into account factors like age and gender, each one-point increase in Mediterranean diet score was associated with a 5% decrease in cardiovascular risk.

Interestingly, however, researchers did not find a significant association between adherence to a Western diet and risk for heart attack, stroke and death.

Findings confirm the many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, particularly for patients living with heart disease. Patients with heart disease have especially high risk for heart events, and simple dietary choices may help significantly reduce risk for heart attack, stroke and even death.

According to authors, findings also highlight the importance of choosing healthy foods rather than simply avoiding unhealthy ones. By choosing wholesome foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, patients with heart disease can help significantly boost heart health and prevent life-threatening events. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the Mediterranean diet?
  • The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. It features foods eaten in Greece, Spain, southern Italy and France, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

    The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads and whole grains, and olive oil. Meat, cheese, and sweets are very limited. The recommended foods are rich with monounsaturated fats, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.

    The Mediterranean diet is like other heart-healthy diets in that it recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains. But in the Mediterranean diet, an average of 35-to-40% of calories can come from fat. Most other heart-healthy guidelines recommend getting less than 35% of your calories from fat. The fats allowed in the Mediterranean diet are mainly from unsaturated oils, such as fish oils, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils (such as canola, soybean, or flaxseed oil). These types of oils may have a protective effect on the heart.  For more information, read this overview of the Mediterranean diet.
  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

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Extra virgin or virgin olive oil is preferable because it isn't chemically produced and has more antioxidants.

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