A Mediterranean diet protects the heart. A bit of junk food may not harm it

Heart disease patients can lower their risk of a heart attack and stroke if they eat a Mediterranean diet, according to research published in the European Heart Journal.

The researchers, from the University of Auckland, looked at the diets of over 15,000 people with stable coronary heart disease. They gave every participant a score from zero to 24 depending on their consumption of a Mediterranean diet (ie, whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, fish and alcohol, and only limited meat).

They found that over three and a half years those with a Mediterranean diet score of 15 or more were three per cent less likely to have both fatal or non-fatal heart attack or stroke.

Up to a score of 12 there was no difference in the likelihood of these events occurring, but for every point increase above 12, the risk of death, non-fatal heart attack or stroke was lowered by five per cent.

Because the researchers only looked at participants with a high risk of having a major cardiovascular event, the three per cent risk reduction does not necessarily apply to the general population, or even to those with heart disease.

The study also found that a high ‘Western diet’ score did not increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, which the researchers had not expected. This suggests the possibility that, for heart disease patients, eating good food is more important than avoiding bad food.

A Western diet was measured as a high consumption of ‘refined grains, sweets and deserts, sugared drinks, and deep fried foods’.

Instant analysis
The paper is open to two interpretations. One is that there seems to be no association between a Western diet and an adverse cardiac outcome. However, this is a controversial finding limited to this paper only.

The other message is that a healthy diet rich in vegetables improves health in a range of areas. The paper shows the power of a diet change, which for cardiac patients should be considered before pills.

One group in the study did receive a pharmacological intervention in the form of heart drug darapladib, but this appeared to make no difference.
RM
Research score: 3/5