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Olive oil and nuts are 'as good as statins' for heart

A Mediterranean diet high in olive oil, nuts, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables can cut the risk of heart attack as effectively as taking statins, a large new study suggests.

Past research suggested people who eat this type of diet have healthier hearts, but those studies couldn't rule out that other health or lifestyle differences had made the difference.

But for the new trial, written up in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers randomly assigned study volunteers at risk of heart disease to a Mediterranean or standard low-fat diet for five years, allowing the team to single out the effect of diet in particular.

"This is good news, because we know how to prevent the main cause of deaths – that is cardiovascular diseases – with a good diet," said Miguel Angel Martinez-Gonzalez, who worked on the study at the Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona.



He and colleagues from across Spain assigned almost 7,500 older adults with diabetes or other heart risks to one of three groups.

Two groups were instructed to eat a Mediterranean diet – one supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and the other with nuts, both donated for the study – with help from personalised advice and group meetings. The third study group ate a "control" diet, which emphasised low-far dairy products, grains and fruits and vegetables.

Over the next five years, 288 study participants had a heart attack or stroke, or died of any type of cardiovascular disease.

People on both Mediterranean diets, though, were 28 to 30pc less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those on the general low-fat diet, the researchers said.

As well as being effective in cutting heart problems, the diet also has the advantage of not having the side-effects - or costs - associated with with statins.

The new study is the first randomised trial of any diet pattern to show benefit among people initially without heart diseas.

It's the blend of Mediterranean diet components, and not one particular ingredient, that promotes heart health, said Mr Martinez-Gonzalez.

"The quality of fat in the Mediterranean diet is very good," he said. "This good source of calories is replacing other bad sources of calories. In addition, there is a wide variety of plant foods".

He suggested people seeking to improve their diet start with small changes, such as forgoing meat one or two days a week, cooking with olive oil and drinking red wine with meals rather than hard alcohol.