People at risk of heart disease could extend their lives by going Mediterranean or low-fat, according to a new analysis of popular diets.
In the world of nutrition and disease, dietary fat is an often confusing subject. And in general, experts say, recent years have seen a move away from prescribing a strict amount of dietary fat, and more focus on the source of that fat: Is it from healthful foods like olive oil and nuts, or from burgers and fries?
Still, the new analysis found some wins for low-fat eating.
Across 40 published clinical trials, those that tested low-fat diets showed that they helped prevent heart attacks and premature deaths among people at elevated risk. That included people who’d already suffered a heart attack or stroke, and those with conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Low-fat diets were, at least, better than making no diet changes.
However, the benefits were even greater for people in trials of the famous Mediterranean diet — high in fish, vegetables and, yes, olive oil and nuts. The diet helped people live longer, and it not only lowered their risk of heart attack, but stroke as well.
Experts said the findings, published online recently in the medical journal BMJ, support what has become the common diet mantra in recent years: Eat more fish and plant-based foods, and limit red meat and processed foods.
“This supports what we have seen over the last couple of decades — that an eating pattern that focuses on more plant foods and less animal fat, like the Mediterranean diet, seems to help in the prevention of cardiovascular disease,” according to Connie Diekman, a St. Louis-based nutrition consultant and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Diekman, who was not involved in the study, said other evidence shows it’s the source of the dietary fat that matters.
Fat from plant sources, like vegetable oils and nuts, is generally of the unsaturated variety, which may support