An eating regimen that incorporates foods that are part of the Mediterranean diet just got even more confirmation that it may be good for your health.
In a study published Sunday in the European Heart Journal, researchers found that people with heart disease who ate more food associated with the Mediterranean diet – things like olive oil, fish, whole grains, and nuts – had fewer major heart problems than those who ate fewer of those foods.
To reach that conclusion, the researchers asked 15,000 people what they ate every day, and based on their responses ranked them as either more in line with a Mediterranean diet or a western one. The Mediterranean diet is modeled off of foods commonly eaten in countries on the Mediterranean Sea. It’s typically high in fruits and vegetables, fish, and whole grains like whole wheat and brown rice. In contrast, a western diet is characterized as higher in refined grains, sugar, and deep fried foods.
Statistically speaking, people in the study who ate the most Mediterranean-style foods were also the least likely to experience severe heart problems like heart attacks, while people who ate the least of these foods were more likely to experience severe heart problems. However, the opposite conclusion could not be drawn for people with more western diets: People who ate the most western-style foods didn’t necessarily have the most severe heart problems.
The researchers’ findings suggest that if you want the most heart health benefits, it’s best to try increasing your intake of Mediterranean-style foods rather than trying to avoid western ones.
Previous studies have also linked the Mediterranean diet with a reduced risk of heart disease and breast cancer and still others have suggested the diet could have some potential memory-related benefits.
The researchers who worked on the latest study pulled their data from a survey that was part of a drug trial investigating a compound called Darapladib. As part of the study, 15,000 people with coronary heart disease, a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, responded to a survey about what they ate every day. (Of those participating, about 97% were on a special type of medication called a statin that aims to lower cholesterol.) Their responses were ranked based on how well they aligned with a Mediterranean diet.
Almost four years later, the same participants took a follow-up survey. Based on their responses, they found that those that most closely followed a Mediterranean diet had fewer “major adverse cardiovascular events,” such as a stroke or a heart attack, than those who followed it less closely or had more of a western diet.
There are a few caveats to the study: Because it was self-reported, it’s difficult to know if the people ate exactly what they said they did (portion sizes could vary, etc.). Plus, because it was recorded in a survey and not a daily food diary, the responses weren’t as comprehensive as they could have been.