NEW ORLEANS – A Mediterranean-style diet high in olive oil and other “healthy” fats is just as good as the classic American Heart Association low-fat diet for the 8 million Americans who have suffered a heart attack and want to prevent a repeat, new research suggests.
People on either diet had one-third the risk of suffering another heart attack, a stroke, death or other heart problem compared with heart patients eating in the usual way, the study found. The results of the study were presented Sunday at an American College of Cardiology conference.
Doctors said it was one of the best tests of specific diets on heart health, especially because participants stuck to it and achieved the goals for various fats that researchers set. The participants also were similar in treatments and other factors so the effect of the diets could be isolated.
“Both diets are prudent choices” for people at high risk of heart disease, said Dr. Katherine Tuttle of Providence Medical Research Center and Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. She led the study and presented the results at the conference.
Both the Heart Association and the Mediterranean diet are low in saturated fat (less than 7 percent of total calories) and cholesterol (less than 200 milligrams a day). The typical American’s diet contains twice those levels or more, Tuttle said.
In the study, those on the American Heart diet were told to keep total fat intake to less than 30 percent of calories. The Mediterranean dieters were allowed to go up to 40 percent, with the extra coming from healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and foods such as olive oil, avocados and especially fish. It aimed for 20 to 25 percent of calories to come from these sources, and fish three to five times per week was recommended.
After four years, 83 percent of those on the low-fat or Mediterranean diets had survived without such problems; only 53 percent of the others did. Cholesterol levels improved in both diet groups but not the comparison group.
There was no difference in risk between the two diet groups – both did well.