Health A to Z

Seniors' Health: Mediterranean and low-fat diets are both heart-healthy

Heart attack survivors benefit from either approach in combination with intensive counselling

When it comes to heart health, is it better to eat a low-fat or Mediterranean-style diet? Either one will do just fine, according to recent research.

A study led by Dr. Katherine Tuttle of the Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., showed both diets provide equal cardiovascular benefit, and people on either diet fare better than those not on a diet program.

The study involved 101 people who had recently survived a heart attack. They were randomly assigned to follow either a Mediterranean-style diet or the American Heart Association Step II low-fat diet for two years. Participants had lots of help sticking with their diet plan: They attended regular counselling sessions with a dietitian as well as monthly group counselling sessions.

Both diet plans were low in saturated fat and cholesterol; however, the Mediterranean diet had a higher fat content in the form of monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids from plant- and fish-based sources.

The study also featured a comparison group: 101 patients hospitalized for a first heart attack who received standard care and a low-fat diet but no intensive dietary counselling.

Both diet groups did equally well. In total, there were only eight instances of participants dying, suffering a recurrent heart attack, uncontrollable chest pain or stroke, or being admitted to hospital for heart failure. In contrast, 40 of these events occurred in the comparison group.

This finding was welcome news for some participants, Tuttle notes. Because the study population was mainly older Caucasian patients residing in the northwestern United States, she says many dietitians reported that patients did not enjoy increasing their fish and olive oil consumption. “(Dietitians) were kind of relieved at these results, because they felt very comfortable recommending a low-fat diet to people who prefer that.”