Mediterranean diet reduces risk of cardiovascular disease by 30%, study finds

Spanish researchers investigate benefits of diets supplemented with olive oil, nuts

NEW YORK — The alleged health benefits of a Mediterranean diet have been touted for years, but a new study adds weight to the claims.

The study, published online Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that a traditional Mediterranean diet — characterized as rich in extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables and including moderate wine consumption, as well as low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats and sweets — reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Spanish researchers enrolled 7,447 men between 55 and 80 and women between 60 and 80 who did not have cardiovascular disease, but were identified has having high risk due to Type 2 diabetes or factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, poor weight control or a family history of heart disease. Participants were divided into three groups — one group that ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, one that ate a diet supplemented with nuts and a control group — and followed for nearly five years, starting in October 2003.

After five years, the researchers recorded 96 incidents of cardiovascular disease among the olive oil group, 83 among the nut group and 109 in the control group. Overall, the researchers found that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 30%.

"In conclusion, in this primary prevention trial, we observed that an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, resulted in a substantial reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events among high-risk persons. The results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease," the authors wrote.

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