Previous studies have suggested that a so-called Mediterranean diet, -namely one rich in vegetables, fruits, cereals, and a low intake of meat and dairy products, with a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids (mostly olive oil) to polyunsaturated fatty acids - can help people live longer. However, until now it was not known whether this could be the case for those people already affected by cardiovascular diseases.
This most recent research, carried out by a joint US/Greek team, looked at the survival of people with diagnosed coronary heart disease in a population of over 1000 Greek men and women.
The patients were studied for an average of nearly four years, during which information about their dietary intake was recorded.
The scientists found that those who adhered to a Mediterranean diet, were 30 per cent les likely to die during the same period as those on a different regime.
Reporting in the Archives of Internal Medicine (25 April), the researchers found that for every 2 point increase in diet scores, the risk of dying decreased by 27 percent.
Based on these findings, lead author Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou at Athens Medical School and Harvard University in Boston told Reuters Health that she would "absolutely" recommend a Mediterranean diet for everybody diagnosed with heart disease.
However, no one ingredient appeared to have the biggest impact on health, according to the researchers, suggesting, in Trichopoulou's words that the the Mediterranean-style diet is an "integral entity".
She supposed that that it helps people live longer with heart disease for the same reason the diet appears to help prevent heart disease in the first place, such as by improving cholesterol and blood pressure.
Mounting evidence suggests a kaleidoscope of Mediterranean ingredients in a daily diet can actively boost health, in particular in preventing cardiovascular disease, the number one global killer, and certain cancers.
Tomatoes, for example, are packed with the health-promoting antioxidant lycopene, a carotenoid attracting growing attention in recent years due to research linking it to reduction in cancer risk, especially prostate cancer. New findings also suggest that it could have a protective effect on heart disease, the cause of more deaths among women than any other disease.
A recent report on the $348.5 million (€291.4m) carotenoid market from market analysts Frost & Sullivan revealed that the European food and health industry has 'under-utilised' the nutraceutical properties of carotenoids, and consumers are still unaware of their health benefits.
And contributing to a raft of studies on olive oil, recent research suggests that consumption of olive oil is inversely associated with blood pressure. Olive oil has been shown to have a beneficial effect on blood lipids but the new study, reported in the October issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (vol 80, no 4, 1012-1018), suggests that it may act in a number of ways to protect people from heart disease.