Mediterranean diet rich in healthy fats from olive oil and nuts provides better protection against heart attack and stroke than a low-fat diet, a new Spanish trial has shown.

“Extensive research has found a significant benefit of eating a Mediterranean diet, and separate research has shown a significant benefit to the consumption of nuts, particularly walnuts, which was the majority of the nuts in this study,” said Dr. Rachel Bond. She is associate director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“This study combines those two factors and shows that, in combination, this dietary modification has a significant benefit to cardiovascular health,” Bond continued. “These new results provide further evidence for physicians to educate their patients about how beneficial dietary modification can be in terms of their heart health.”

In the clinical trial, led by Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez-Gonzalez, from the Instituto de Salud in Spain, nearly 7,450 people at high risk of heart disease were assigned to one of three diets — a Mediterranean diet supplemented either with extra-virgin olive oil or with mixed nuts, or a “control” diet focused on reducing fat intake.

Participants were then tracked for about five years to see whether the Mediterranean diet helped protect their heart health.

A Mediterranean diet focuses on replacing saturated fats from butter and fatty cuts of meat with healthy unsaturated fats from sources like olive oil, nuts and fatty fish.

About 3.8 percent of people in the olive oil group and 3.4 percent of people in the nuts group experienced a stroke or heart attack during the follow-up period, compared with 4.4 percent of people on a low-fat diet, the investigators found.

Analysis revealed that the Mediterranean diet with olive oil reduced risk of a stroke or heart attack by 31 percent, and the diet with nuts reduced risk by 28 percent, the study authors said.

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