The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of death in patients with a history of cardiovascular disease, according to a recent study.

"The Mediterranean diet is widely recognised as one of the healthier nutrition habits in the world," said Professor Giovanni de Gaetano, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed Institute in Pozzilli, Italy. "Many scientific studies have shown that a traditional Mediterranean lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of various chronic diseases and, more importantly, of death from any cause," he said. "But so far research has focused on the general population, which is mainly composed of healthy people. What happens to people who have already suffered from cardiovascular disease? Is the Mediterranean diet optimal for them too?"

The answer is yes, according to a study in patients with a history of cardiovascular disease, such as coronary artery disease and stroke. The patients were among the participants enrolled into the Moli-sani project, a prospective epidemiological study that randomly recruited around 25,000 adults living in the Italian region of Molise. Food intake was recorded using a questionnaire, and adherence to the Mediterranean diet was appraised with a 9-point Mediterranean diet score (MDS). The top category (score 6-9) of adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with 37 percent lower risk of death compared to the bottom category (0-3).

The researchers deepened their investigation by looking at the role played by individual foods that make up Mediterranean diet. "The major contributors to mortality risk reduction were a higher consumption of vegetables, fish, fruits, nuts and monounsaturated fatty acids - that means olive oil," said de Gaetano.