Adhering to the dietary patterns of Southern Italy, Greece and Spain could significantly reduce risk of stroke, according to results of a large national study recently published in the journal Stroke.
Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide, causing 4.4 million deaths each year. In the United States alone, stroke accounts for 1 in 18 deaths, and new stroke cases are expected to double by 2050. Although we’ve made great strides in stroke treatment, the best way to reduce the stroke burden in the United States and worldwide is through prevention. Simple choices like the food we eat could go a long way when it comes to preventing stroke and improving heart health.
To learn more about the association between the Mediterranean diet and stroke risk, researchers heading the REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) study analyzed survey data from more than 30,000 U.S. adults between 2003 and 2007. Researchers measured how closely subjects adhered to a Mediterranean diet, characterized by a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and olive oil, plus a moderate intake of fish and poultry and a low intake of dairy products, red and processed meats, sweets, and a moderate alcohol consumption. Based on responses, participants were then assigned a dietary score ranging from 0–9, with a score of 0 indicating no adherence to a Mediterranean diet and a score of 9 indicating high adherence to this type of diet.
After following participants for an average of 6.5 years, researchers found that individuals with a score within the 5–9 range had a 21% lower risk of stroke compared to individuals who didn’t follow a Mediterranean diet at all. Analysis also showed that for every one-point increase in dietary score, participants had a 5% reduction in stroke risk.
These findings add to a growing body of evidence linking the Mediterranean diet to reduced heart risks. Diet plays an important role when it comes to heart health, and simple choices like the types of food we eat can help drastically reduce risk of heart disease and heart events like stroke. Results of the REGARDS study also reinforce the fact that even adopting parts of a healthy diet, like eating plenty of fruits and vegetables or replacing unhealthy fats with healthy fats, can reduce cardiovascular risk. The more healthy choices we make in promoting a balanced diet, the better our heart health and overall health.