When it comes to maintaining a healthy heart, eating more in line with a Mediterranean diet may do you more good than a strictly low-fat one, according to a new review of studies.
Published in the American Journal of Medicine, the findings show that having a "whole diet approach" to eating -- where one focuses on consuming more produce, fish and nuts -- is more effective at preventing heart disease than one focused solely on decreasing dietary fat intake, and has a benefit "equal to or greater than the benefit observed in statin trials," the researchers wrote in the study.
"Nearly all clinical trials in the 1960s, 70s and 80s compared usual diets to those characterized by low total fat, low saturated fat, low dietary cholesterol, and increased polyunsaturated fats," study researcher Dr. James E. Dalen, M.D., MPH, of the Weil Foundation and the University of Arizona College of Medicine, said in a statement. "These diets did reduce cholesterol levels. However they did not reduce the incidence of myocardial infarction or coronary heart disease deaths."
For the review, researchers looked at studies conducted from 1957 until now. They found that "whole diet approaches" to eating -- specifically the Mediterranean diet -- were the best at preventing heart disease, even when they didn't specifically lower cholesterol levels.
While the Mediterranean diet is naturally low in animal and saturated fats, it's also high in healthy monounsaturated fats (from foods like olive oil and nuts). The diet is high in fruits, vegetables and fish, as well.
The findings support those of a New England Journal of Medicine study published last year, which involved assigning people to either a Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet for five years. People who were assigned to consume the Mediterranean diet had a 30 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than the low-fat group.
The Mediterranean diet has been linked in other research to a whole wealth of other health benefits. For instance, a study published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that consuming a Mediterranean diet increases the chances a woman will live disease-free in old age. And research has also shown that the style of eating can cut diabetes risk in people at risk for heart disease, as well as in a more general population.