(CNN)The list of Mediterranean diet benefits is getting even longer. A new study found that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish and unrefined foods is linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke in people who have heart disease.
The latest research builds on previous evidence
that your health might benefit if you follow the Mediterranean diet. It can help your bones
, keep your brain young
, help you live longer
, manage your weight better
(PDF) and lower your risk of cancer
and cardiovascular diseases
The current study
examined more than 15,000 people in 39 countries around the world, all with stable heart disease and an average age of 67. Researchers asked about their diet, including how many times a week they consumed servings from food groups such as meat, fish, dairy, whole grains or refined grains, vegetables, fruit, desserts, sweets, sugary drinks, deep-fried foods and alcohol. Participants were given a “Mediterranean diet score,” based on consumption of healthy foods, or a “Western diet score,” based on consumption of unhealthy foods.
Drayer said the Mediterranean diet is consistent with the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines and other diets, such as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension
, which have proved to be protective in terms of disease prevention. She recommends including foods from the Mediterranean diet, such as salmon, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and even a glass of wine, to keep our hearts healthy.
“The diet has proven itself, and it behooves every one of us to eat more fish on a regular basis, to have half of our plate filled with produce and to enjoy the occasional glass of wine,” she said. “And the more consistent you are with this type of diet, the more impact it has on your health.”
Study isn’t a ‘green light’ for unhealthy foods
The researchers also found that consuming a Western diet did not increase the risk of cardiovascular events. Stewart said this is surprising because such a diet includes foods known to increase the risk of obesity.
Although the study didn’t find an association with the Western diet, Drayer said it’s still important to limit processed and fried foods, since they’ve been shown to increase weight gain, cholesterol and heart disease risk.
The study does have some limitations, as it relied on people’s memories of what they ate, and the questionnaire didn’t define a serving size. The study was also part of a drug trial, but the findings of this study were not related to the drug.
Stewart and Drayer both caution that these new findings don’t mean people can consume unhealthy foods without restrictions.
“This study should not give people the green light to go ahead and eat large portions of sugary foods and beverages and deep-fried foods,” Drayer said. “But this study shows that it’s never too late to make changes in your diet, and it can be particularly beneficial to include healthy foods.”