Best to Eat Like the Greeks After Heart Disease

NEW YORK (Reuters) - People with heart disease who stick to a so-called Mediterranean diet -- heavy on fish and vegetables, and low on saturated fats -- tend to live longer than those who follow different diets, new research suggests.

Investigators based in Greece and the U.S. found that, among a group of more than 1,300 men and women diagnosed with heart disease, those who ate a more Mediterranean diet were nearly 30 percent less likely to die during follow up, which lasted close to four years.

Based on these findings, lead author Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou at Athens Medical School and Harvard University in Boston told Reuters Health that she would "absolutely" recommend a Mediterranean diet for everybody diagnosed with heart disease.

A Mediterranean-style diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts. It includes few saturated fats like the ones in red meat but plenty of healthier fatty acids like those found in olive oil. It also features moderate amounts of red wine.

Recently, research has shown that following this diet can provide a range of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, arthritis, cancer and age-related memory loss.

Recently, Trichopoulou and her team observed that following a Mediterranean-style diet appears to reduce the risk of death among people free of heart disease.

As part of the current study, the researchers followed 1,302 Greek men and women for nearly four years, noting what they ate. All were diagnosed with heart disease.

The researchers scored how closely people followed the Mediterranean diet using a 10-point scale, with a higher score indicating a higher adherence to the diet.

Reporting in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the investigators found that for every 2 point increase in diet scores, the risk of dying decreased by 27 percent.

No one ingredient of the Mediterranean diet appeared to have the biggest impact on health, the researchers note. This finding suggests that the Mediterranean-style diet is an "integral entity," Trichopoulou noted. "The total is much more than the constituents," she explained.

The Mediterranean diet, Trichopoulou said, likely helps people live longer with heart disease for the same reason the diet appears to help prevent heart disease in the first place -- by improving cholesterol and blood pressure, for instance.

"There is also speculation that the traditional Mediterranean foods may contain unidentified compounds with health promoting potential," she added.

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, April 25, 2005.