Following a so-called “Mediterranean” diet can cut the risk of heart disease by 30%, according to a paper presented at the Sixth International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition.
The researchers responsible for the Spanish PREDIMED trial characterise a Mediterranean diet as one with a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation, consumed with meals.
The trial began in 2003, and involved almost 7,500 participants - men aged between 55 and 80, and women aged 60 – 80. Participants had no cardiovascular disease at enrolment, had either type 2 diabetes mellitus or at least three of the following major risk factors: smoking, hypertension, elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, overweight or obesity, or a family history of premature coronary heart disease.
Participants were randomly divided into three groups, and given either a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, or a control diet.
The researchers found that participants in the two Mediterranean diet groups significantly increased weekly servings of fish (by 0.3 servings) and legumes (by 0.4 servings) in comparison with those in the control group. In addition, participants assigned to a Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil and those assigned to a Mediterranean diet with nuts significantly increased their consumption of extra-virgin olive oil (to 50 and 32 g per day, respectively) and nuts (to 0.9 and 6 servings per week, respectively).
In the trial, an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet supplemented with either extra-virgin olive oil or nuts resulted in an absolute risk reduction of approximately three major cardiovascular events per 1,000 person-years, for a relative risk reduction of approximately 30%, among high-risk persons who were initially free of cardiovascular disease. These results, said the researchers, support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular risk reduction.
The study – “Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet” - is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.