The groundbreaking results of a clinical study on the Mediterranean diet were published on Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Some experts call this a watershed moment for nutrition. For the first time a diet has proven as effective or more so than drugs for preventing heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from cardiovascular disease. And those benefits come without any negative side effects.
Research began with nearly 7,500 participants in Spain identified as high-risk for heart disease. Those placed on the Mediterranean diet experienced 30 percent fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease over the course of the study.
The results were so astounding researchers stopped the study early. “We stopped the trial for ethical reasons,” said Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez. All participants were then encouraged to change their diet to reduce the likelihood of death or disease.
Half the participants in the study were given dietary guidance for a low-fat diet similar to what many cardiologists recommend. The other half were placed on a Mediterranean diet rich in nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, fruits, and vegetables. The main components of the diet included:
- 4 tablespoons a day of extra-virgin olive oil for some
- 1 ounce mix of walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts daily for others
- At least three servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables a day.
- Fish and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) three times a week
- White meat instead of red
- Seven glasses of red wine a week with meals
- Avoid commercially made cookies, cakes, and pastries
- Limit dairy products and processed meats
Although the subjects did not lose weight, they saw a real reduction in major health issues. Whereas most studies measure intermediate risk factors like cholesterol or weight, this study monitored actual episodes and deaths.
And participants saw the difference. “They experienced a 30 percent reduction in risk in just five years. This is a powerful message,” Dr. Martinez concluded.
Now experts want more research on diet and its role in heart health.