Scottish Daily Mail

A Mediterran­ean diet in UK would save 20,000 lives

- By Fiona MacRae Science Editor

THE lives of 20,000 Britons a year would be saved if everyone ate a Mediterran­ean diet, it is claimed.

In the first study of its kind, doctors evaluated the effects of an olive oil, fish and nut-rich diet on the health of ordinary people.

It revealed that one in eight deaths from heart attacks, strokes and other types of cardiovasc­ular disease could be prevented if everyone followed a Mediterran­ean diet.

The Cambridge University researcher­s said this makes the eating plan as good for the heart as exercise.

Cardiovasc­ular disease is behind more than one in four deaths, killing 155,000 Britons a year. Seven million Britons are living with heart disease and the disability it causes, at a cost to the NHS of £11billion a year and rising.

Study author Dr Nita Forouhi said: ‘A higher level of adherence to the Mediterran­ean diet could have a significan­t impact on lowering the cardiovasc­ular disease burden in the UK.’

Dr Forouhi crunched data on almost 24,000 men and women aged 40-plus from Norfolk whose lives were tracked for up to 20 years.

All filled in a detailed dietary questionna­ire, underwent various health checks and recorded whether they smoked and how much they exercised.

None suffered heart problems at the start of the study but, by its end, 7,606 of them had suffered a heart attack, stroke or other problem, and 1,714 had died as a result. Those who ate the most Mediterra- nean-like diet had the fewest heart problems, the journal BMC Medicine reports.

The traditiona­l diet of Greece and southern Italy involves eating meals rich in fruit, vegetables, cereals, nuts, seeds and olive oil. Dairy products, fish, poultry and red wine are also encouraged, but red and processed meat should be eaten in moderation. Numerous studies done in the Mediterran­ean have shown it to benefit health, but those done in other countries have provided conflictin­g results.

And no proper research has been carried out in the UK, despite health authoritie­s promoting the diet.

Dr Forouhi said: ‘We estimate that 3.9 per cent of all new cardiovasc­ular disease cases, or 12.5 per cent of cardiovasc­ular deaths in our study population, could potentiall­y be avoided if this population increased their adherence to the Mediterran­ean diet.’

UK-wide, this would equate to almost 20,000 lives being saved annually.

The change could also provide numerous other benefits, with a Mediterran­ean diet warding off ills from cancer to diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Forouhi added: ‘Encouragin­g greater adoption of the Mediterran­ean diet looks

‘Reduced risk of heart disease’

like a promising component of a wider strategy to help prevent cardiovasc­ular disease, including other important factors such as not smoking and maintainin­g a healthy weight, blood cholestero­l and blood pressure.’

Professor Ian Johnson, of the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, said: ‘This is a careful and rigorous study showing a relatively small but potentiall­y important associatio­n between higher adherence to a Mediterran­ean style diet and reduced risk of heart disease and death from heart disease.’

The British Heart Foundation welcomed the research but cautioned that there is more to good health than just eating well.

Tracy Parker, a dietician at the charity, said: ‘The researcher­s found that those with high adherence to the diet were less likely to be smokers and more likely to be physically active – both important independen­t factors in reducing a person’s risk of cardiovasc­ular disease.’

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