A "Mediterranean" diet, high in fruit, vegetables, fish and unrefined foods, is likely to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who already have heart disease, finds a new study.
The findings showed that for every 100 people eating the highest proportion of healthy "Mediterranean" foods, there were three fewer heart attacks, strokes or deaths compared to 100 people eating the least amount of healthy foods.
Some foods - particularly fruit and vegetables - seem to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Eating more of these foods in preference to others may lower the risk factors.
However, avoiding a "Western" diet that included refined grains, sweets, desserts, sugared drinks and deep-fried food did not reveal an increase in the adverse events.
Eating greater amounts of healthy food was more important for people with heart diseases than avoiding unhealthy foods, the researchers noted while adding that no evidence of harm was found from modest consumption of foods such as refined carbohydrates, deep-fried foods, sugars and deserts.
For the study, published in the European Heart Journal, the team asked 15,482 people with stable coronary artery disease with an average age of 67 from 39 countries around the world, to complete a lifestyle questionnaire.
Depending on their answers, they were given a "Mediterranean diet score" (MDS), which assigned more points for increased consumption of healthy foods with a total range of 0-24; a "Western diet score" (WDS) assigned points for increased consumption of unhealthy foods.
"After adjusting for other factors that might affect the results, we found that every one unit increase in the Mediterranean Diet Score was associated with a seven percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death from cardiovascular or other causes in patients with existing heart disease," said lead researcher Ralph Stewart, professor at University of Auckland in New Zealand.
"We should place more emphasis on encouraging people with heart disease to eat more healthy foods, and perhaps focus less on avoiding unhealthy foods," he suggested.
Mediterranean diet could reduce risks during pregnancy
Women who follow a Mediterranean-style diet in the years before becoming pregnant could face a significantly reduced risk of developing hypertensive disorders during pregnancy, new research from The University of Queensland (UQ) suggests.
UQ School of Public Health researchers found that young women who followed a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, nuts, tofu, rice, pasta, rye bread, red wine and fish before pregnancy had a 42 per cent lower risk of developing gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia.
The researchers analysed dietary information relating to 6149 pregnancies in 3582 women aged 25 to 30 years in 2003, through data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health.
UQ School of Public Health PhD candidate Ms Danielle Schoenaker said the study emphasised the importance of a healthy diet for young women.
"Diet is a modifiable factor, and encouraging young women to consume a Mediterranean-style diet could lower their risk of developing gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia, Ms Schoenaker said.
"No individual food could fully explain the association with hypertensive disorders, which suggests it’s the combination of foods in the Mediterranean-style diet that is important.
"Hypertensive disorders are a common complication during pregnancy, and lead to an increased post-pregnancy risk of mothers and their children developing chronic diseases."
Ms Schoenaker stressed that the results indicated a clear relationship between a Mediterranean-style diet and a lower risk of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, but further studies were needed to confirm the findings.
This study is published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Mediterranean diet without breakfast best for diabetics
Eating a Mediterranean diet is good for the mind, research has concluded. The research is the first systematic review of previous studies into the diet's benefits to the brain.
Scientists say people who eat large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil have a lower risk of age-related diseases such as dementia.
The research, by the University of Exeter's Medical School, is the first systematic review of previous studies into the diet's benefits to the brain.
It comes after research last month showed the same diet could help counteract a genetic risk of strokes.
The team, supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula, analysed 12 eligible pieces of research, 11 observational studies and one randomised control trial.
In nine of the 12 studies, a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with better cognitive function, lower rates of cognitive decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
However, results for mild cognitive impairment - the stage before Alzheimer's or dementia, when someone could be experiencing some cognitive difficulties - were inconsistent.
Lead researcher Iliana Lourida says Mediterranean food is both delicious and nutritious, and their systematic review shows it may help to protect the ageing brain by reducing the risk of dementia.
"While the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and dementia risk is not new, ours is the first study to systematically analyse all existing evidence," she said.
"Our review also highlights inconsistencies in the literature and the need for further research."
In particular, research was needed to clarify the association with mild cognitive impairment and vascular dementia.
"It is also important to note that while observational studies provide suggestive evidence we now need randomised, controlled trials to confirm whether or not adherence to a Mediterranean diet protects against dementia."