Switching to a diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruit, vegetables, and even some wine and chocolate can slash your risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease. That's the conclusion of a landmark study out this week in the New England of Medicine.
The benefit was so great--a 30 percent reduction in risk, even among people at high risk, many of whom were already taking drugs for high blood pressure and cholesterol levels--that the researchers stopped the trial early, considering it wrong to continue when the benefits were so apparent.
What part of the diet was most important? The benefit likely comes from the combination working together, not any one food. Still, the researchers provided participants with a free supply each week of either a liter of olive oil (about 4 cups) or 210 grams (about 7 ounces) of walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds. The participants were supposed to consume at least 4 tablespoons of olive oil a day or an ounce of the mixed nuts. There was no difference between those two groups.
Other key features included at least two servings of fresh vegetables a day and three servings of fruit; legumes, such as garbanzo beans and lentils, at least three times a week; seafood three times a week, including at least one meal of a fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or sardines; a tomato, garlic, and onion sauce in olive oil at least twice a week, on top of pasta, rice, or vegetables. Those who drink wine should aim for about seven glasses a week, with meals. Oh, you can also eat as much chocolate as you like, as long as it's at least 50 percent cocoa.
See our Guide to a Healthy Heart
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People in the diet, who were not told to restrict how much they ate overall, did not gain or lose weight.
The Mediterranean diet ranked high In our recent diet Ratings, which was based on survey responses from almost 10,000 subscribers. And our story Facts About Fats explains that while olive oil does indeed have a good reputation, other unsaturated fats do, too. If you want to stock your pantry with Mediterranean fare, see our guides to olive oil, wine, and chocolate.
Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet [New England Journal of Medicine]