Should we switch to a Mediterranean diet?

A recent study found that a Mediterranean diet rich in nuts and olive oil reduces the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular disease. Past research suggested people who eat a Mediterranean-like diet have healthier hearts, but those studies couldnt rule out that other health or lifestyle differences had made the difference.

In the new trial, researchers from across Spain assigned almost 7,500 older adults with diabetes or other heart risks to one of three groups. Two groups were instructed to eat a Mediterranean diet - one supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and the other with nuts, both donated for the study - with help from personalized advice and group meetings. The third study group ate a control diet, which emphasized low-fat dairy products, grains and fruits and vegetables.

Over the next five years, 288 study participants had a heart attack or stroke or died of any type of cardiovascular disease.
People on both Mediterranean diets were 28 to 30 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those on the general low-fat diet, the researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The new study is the first randomized trial of any diet pattern to show benefit among people initially without heart disease, researchers pointed out....

Its the blend of Mediterranean diet components - not one particular ingredient - that promotes heart health, according to researchers. It is believed that the quality of fat in the Mediterranean diet is very good. This good source of calories is replacing other bad sources of calories and in addition, there is a wide variety of plant foods in the Mediterranean diet, including legumes and fruits as desserts, researchers pointed out.

It was suggested that people seeking to improve their diet start with small changes, such as forgoing meat one or two days per week, cooking with olive oil and drinking red wine with meals rather than hard alcohol. Replacing a high-carbohydrate or high-saturated fat snack with a handful of nuts is also a helpful change.

Many people in the new trial that were already on medications, such as statins and diabetes drug, had a substantial additional benefit from the Mediterranean diet....