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Mediterranean Diet Cuts Risk of Heart Disease, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Could switching to a Mediterranean-style diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil and nuts, help reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart-related deaths?  A new study out Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests it could.

Researchers in Spain looked at over 7,000 patients who did not have heart disease but were at high risk.  The patients were then put on either a Mediterranean diet plus olive oil, a Mediterranean diet plus nuts, or a regular diet with a direction to reduce fat.  

The study's authors found that those on the Mediterranean diets had a 30-percent reduction in cardiovascular events.

"The study really is a potential game changer because it's the first large dietary study in many years which has looked at disease event outcomes, you know such as heart attacks or strokes, as opposed to intermediate markers, such as effects on cholesterol or inflammatory markers in the blood," says Dr. Eric Zacharias, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado and author of the book The Mediterranean Diet: A Clinician's guide for Patient Care.

"This is the best evidence we have to date that simple changes in your diet can actually reduce the chances that you're going to get heart disease and die from heart disease," notes ABC's Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser.

So what exactly is so healthy about the Mediterranean diet?

"The favorable nutrients and health-promoting properties of olive oils, plant-based foods and vegetables and fruit and also the avoidance of the unfavorable effects that come from simple and refined sugars and large loads of animal fats and red meat," explains Zacharias.

He says the diet change could not only help those at risk, but also the economy.

"The health care costs for hospitalization for heart attacks and strokes, even if there's just a tiny dent in the hospitalization, it would result in billions of dollars of health care savings each year," says Zacharias.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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