Nutritional guidelines have always stressed the importance of eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and avoiding processed and sugary foods. However, now it seems that people with cardiovascular disease aren’t at a higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke if they consume these ‘villain’ foods. Moreover, if they eat a Mediterranean diet, which is characterized by the consumption of vegetables and olive oil, they can lower their chances of developing complications.
Studies have shown that eating too much processed or sugary foods can result in cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, research hasn’t focused on the impact such a diet has on people who already have heart disease – until now.
A team of researchers wanted to find out what the best diet for improving heart health is. They observed 15,000 participants from 39 countries and came to the conclusion that the Mediterranean diet can indeed reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with cardiovascular disease.
Of course, the notion that consuming fruits, vegetables, fish and unprocessed foods is good for human health is nothing new. But, what is new is that this study proved that people with heart disease who change their eating habits and switch to a Mediterranean diet are less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. In terms of numbers, for every 100 participants, there were three fewer heart-related complications compared with people eating unhealthy foods. The study observed the effects the Mediterranean diet has on people with heart disease during three years and six months.
What comes as the biggest surprise is that the research discovered that eating the Western diet (processed and deep-fried foods, as well as fizzy drinks) didn’t increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. This basically means that people with heart disease should aim to eat more healthy foods instead of avoiding unhealthy foods.
Though this may seem like the same thing, lead researcher Prof. Ralph Steward explained that the point is that fruits and vegetables have a positive effect on people with heart disease, lowering their chances of complications. He added that consuming these foods is not associated with ‘traditional risk factors,’ including bad cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Steward concluded that there’s no proof that the moderate consumption of unhealthy foods increases chances of complications.
As mentioned before, experts have always suggested that eating a Mediterranean diet can prevent heart disease. What makes this study, which was published in the European Heart Journal, stand out is the fact that it’s the first one to focus on the effects of the Mediterranean diet on people with heart disease.
The average age of the participants in the study was 67. All 15,000 of them were asked to answer questions about their diets. After filling in the questionnaires, the researchers divided them into two groups in accordance with their results. Some of them received the Mediterranean diet score whereas others received the Western diet score. Expectedly, the first group’s diet consisted mostly of healthy foods.
The scientists first ruled out various factors that might have contributed to better results, discovering that the more healthy foods the participants ate, the lower their chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke. The results were the same regardless of the home country of the participants.
Keep in mind, though, that the study was based on the answers provided by the participants, which means it didn’t take into account the size of the portions, the total calorie intake and the types of fats consumed. These are important factors, but there’s no denying that some sort of a connection exists between eating healthy foods and lowering the risk of heart attack or stroke in people with existing heart disease.
The researchers did emphasize that they cannot guarantee that the findings related to the Western diet are completely accurate, meaning that you should probably continue avoiding unhealthy foods if you have heart disease. Or, as Dr. Tim Chico explained, ‘It is equally possible a western diet does increase the risk of future heart problems, but the study design was unable to detect this effect.’