Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil and seafood cuts the risk of dying from heart disease, research shows.
The Mediterranean diet has long been seen as healthy, but now scientists have discovered it actually makes hearts healthier, making patients more likely to survive heart attacks or cardiovascular disease.
A study has found those who had a diet rich in vegetables, nuts, fish and oils were a third less likely to die early, compared with those who ate larger quantities of red meat, such as beef, and butter.
Professor Giovanni de Gaetano at Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy said: “Many studies have shown that a Mediterranean lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of various chronic diseases and, importantly, of death from any cause.”
The study followed 1,200 people with a history of heart attacks, strokes and blocked arteries over seven years.
During this time, 208 patients died, but it was concluded the closer people were to an ideal Mediterranean diet the less likely they were to be among the fatalities.
At the conference, it was said those who ate a Mediterranean-style diet were 37 per cent less likely to die during the study than those who did not follow along these lines.
Previously, it was believed cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins were the most effective way of combating heart disease, and said to help reduce major heart problems by around 24 per cent.
Statins are the most widely prescribed drugs in the UK, with at least seven million users costing the NHS £285million a year.
Earlier research has found that just taking statins cuts mortality by 18 per cent – but experts have claimed the figurers were not directly comparable, and that many heart patients could get maximum benefit by doing both.
The latest figures from the British Heart Foundation show cardiovascular disease causes more than 27 per cent of all deaths in the UK – around 155,000 deaths each year.
Sir David Nicholson, former chief executive of the NHS, entered the debate over statins in July, when he said he had stood taking them as part of his medication for diabetes.
He said: “If a lifestyle change works then why would you take the statin?
“The trouble is that they give you a statin straightaway, so you don’t know what is working.”
A typical Mediterranean diet involves eating less meat, more fish, more unsaturated dats such as olive oil and butter and large quantites of fruit and vegetables.
Ideally, it means eating four or more servings of fish a week, no more than three portons of meat, and at least three sevings of fruit and four portions of vegetables a day.
A Mediterranean diet is also said to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.