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Mediterranean diet linked to lower risk of heart attack, stroke

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Study finds that people with heart disease who eat a Mediterranean diet are at lower risk of heart attack and stroke

The results suggest that including healthy foods might be more important than avoiding unhealthy foods

CNN —  

The list of Mediterranean diet benefits is getting even longer. A new study found that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish and unrefined foods is linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke in people who have heart disease.

The latest research builds on previous evidence that your health might benefit if you follow the Mediterranean diet. It can help your bones, keep your brain young, help you live longer, manage your weight better (PDF) and lower your risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

The current study examined more than 15,000 people in 39 countries around the world, all with stable heart disease and an average age of 67. Researchers asked about their diet, including how many times a week they consumed servings from food groups such as meat, fish, dairy, whole grains or refined grains, vegetables, fruit, desserts, sweets, sugary drinks, deep-fried foods and alcohol. Participants were given a “Mediterranean diet score,” based on consumption of healthy foods, or a “Western diet score,” based on consumption of unhealthy foods.

The researchers followed up about four years later to compare how many participants from each diet group had experienced a major adverse cardiovascular event, such as heart attack, stroke or death.

They found that for every 100 people who ate the highest amount of healthy Mediterranean foods, there were three fewer heart attacks, strokes or deaths compared with 100 people who ate the least amount of healthy foods.

After adjusting for other factors that might affect the results, such as smoking and exercise, the study also found that the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death from heart disease was reduced by about one-third for those who follow a Mediterranean diet, said study author Ralph Stewart of Auckland City Hospital and the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Better to include the good than avoid the bad

Stewart said the results suggest that eating greater amounts of healthy food was more important for people with heart disease than avoiding unhealthy foods.

“The success of the traditional approach to dietary advice, which often (focuses) on avoiding foods which are enjoyed, has been variable,” Stewart said. “A clear message to increase healthy foods – eat three or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day – could be more successful.”

Registered dietitian Lisa Drayer, who was not involved in the study, agrees that it’s important to focus on eating healthy foods rather than avoiding unhealthy ones.

“We all need to eat to live,” she said. “If you want to break other bad habits, you cut them out of your life: You cut cigarettes, you cut out drugs. But when it comes to food, you can’t not eat. It’s just as important, if not more important, for everyone to know what they should eat as opposed to what they should steer clear of. Adding certain foods on a regular basis is more achievable as opposed to stripping your die