Both the Mediterranean diet and prescription cholesterol-lowering statin drugs have a reputation for protecting the heart. How does the Mediterranean diet compare to drug treatment?
Preventing Death from Heart Attack:
Following a Mediterranean diet works even better than statin medication to prevent death from heart attacks. The data supporting this contention is based on a study of almost 1,200 Italians that was reported at the European Society of Cardiology. (Unfortunately, the scientists have not yet published their results.)
The Study Protocol:
These patients had a history of heart disease when they enrolled in the study. This put them at high risk for heart attacks or other complications. During the first few months of the study, they answered an extensive questionnaire about their food habits.
The researchers evaluated each diet for its similarity to an ideal Mediterranean diet, calculated on a 9 point scale. During the seven years of follow-up, people whose diets most closely resembled the Mediterranean ideal were 37 percent less likely to die than those whose diets were least similar to a classic Mediterranean-style eating pattern.
How Does a Mediterranean Diet Compare to What You Eat?
The most protective elements in the diet were vegetables, fish, fruit, nuts and olive oil. Mediterranean-style diets may have some refined grains in the form of pasta or bread, but highly processed carbohydrates are not the primary source of calories. Mediterranean eating patterns de-emphasize red meat, especially processed meat. People eating this way regard sweets as an occasional welcome treat.
There is no room in a traditional Mediterranean diet for trans-fats or fast foods. In fact, people take their time and socialize over meals. They often imbibe a glass of wine at dinner with friends, and food is prepared with care and careful seasoning.
Association Does Not Prove Causation:
The researchers point out that an observational study such as this is not capable of establishing causation. Still, a diet rich in vegetables and fish sounds tasty as well as healthy. For comparison, in previous studies people taking statins were about 24 percent less likely to die than those not on statins.
European Society of Cardiology annual meeting, Rome, Italy, Aug. 28, 2016