Switching to a Mediterranean diet — rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits, vegetables, and wine in moderation — can help prevent about 30% of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease in people at high risk compared with those eating a typical low-fat diet, according to a new study. Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) nutrition experts, including Walter Willett, chair, Department of Nutrition, and Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, and Frank Sacks, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention in the Department of Nutrition, were quoted in the news coverage of the study, which was published online February 25, 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Even the best available drugs, like statins, reduce heart disease by about 25%, which is in the same ballpark as the Mediterranean diet,” Willett told the Boston Globe on February 26, 2013. “But the statins increase the risk of diabetes, whereas this diet can help reduce the risk.”
For about five years University of Barcelona scientists followed 7,447 people aged 55 to 80 who were overweight, smoked, or had diabetes or other risk factors and who were randomly assigned to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet. The study ended early because the findings were so evident that it was considered unethical to continue.
The researchers visited HSPH several times during the study to consult with Sacks, who was mentioned February 26, 2013 in a front page New York Times article about the findings.