Q. I’ve read that the Mediterranean diet can help prevent a heart attack. But what if you already have heart disease?
A. The Mediterranean diet has gotten a lot of media attention for its heart benefits. That’s largely based on clinical trials showing that the diet may help reduce heart attacks and strokes in older adults with risk factors, such as high blood pressure and obesity.
It has been less clear whether the benefits extend to people who already have coronary artery disease.
A study published online in the European Heart Journal in April 2016 suggests they do: Researchers found that among more than 15,000 people with coronary artery disease, those who followed Mediterranean-style diets were less likely to die prematurely or suffer a heart attack or stroke over several years.
The study did not directly test the diet by randomly assigning patients to it or a different eating pattern. Instead, people were asked about their normal eating habits, then given a “Mediterranean diet score” based on their responses.
Among people with higher scores, about 7 percent died or had a heart attack or stroke over the next three to four years compared with almost 11 percent of people who had a lower Mediterranean diet scores.
The results do not prove the diet deserves the credit. However, the study is in line with everything that’s known about nutrition and coronary artery disease.
To protect your heart, aim to fill your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and heart-healthy unsaturated fats from foods such as olive oil and nuts.
Amy Norton has been a medical journalist since 1999. She was a staff writer and editor for Physician’s Weekly and Reuters Health, and has written on health and medicine for MSNBC, The Scientist, Prevention and HealthDay. When she’s not writing, she is teaching yoga.