The Medical Research Council (MRC) and Cambridge University followed nearly 24,000 people in the UK for up to 17 years to see how their diet affected the health of their heart.
They discovered that people who eat as if they live in Greece can significantly reduce their risk of a heart attack and stroke and lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 16 per cent, research has shown.
Traditionally people from Mediterranean countries such as Greece consume large amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, pure olive oil, little red meat, and moderate quantities of dairy products, fish, poultry and wine.
Researchers estimate that 12.5 per cent of cardiovascular deaths, such as heart attacks and strokes, could be prevented if everyone switched to this kind of Mediterranean diet.
Lead researcher Dr Nita Forouhi, from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge University, said "The benefits of the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health are well documented in countries of the Mediterranean region, but this is the first study to evaluate this in the UK.”
The researchers collected data from 23,902 initially healthy Britons taking part in the EPIC-Norfolk prospective cohort study. The participants’ diets were measured using food frequency questionnaires and participants were followed up for an average of 12 to 17 years to investigate the association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and the occurrence of new-onset CVD and deaths during that time.
The Mediterranean diet was defined using a 15-point score based on guideline recommendations from a Mediterranean dietary pyramid published by the Mediterranean Diet Foundation. This is the first time these guidelines have been tested for their associations with health. There are other definitions of what constitutes a Mediterranean diet, but when alternative definitions
Although the study is only observational, the authors say they adjusted it to include lifestyle and other factors, which could have distorted the results, and say the findings provide ‘robust evidence’ for a link.
“Encouraging greater adoption of the Mediterranean diet looks like a promising component of a wider strategy to help prevent cardiovascular disease, including other important factors such as not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, blood cholesterol and blood pressure,” added Dr Forouhi.
*Results from the study appear in the latest issue of the journal BMC Medicine.