Nearly one in four people who have a heart attack go on to have a second one, but the right foods can significantly improve the odds of a long and healthy life. More than 20 years ago, the Lyon Diet Heart Study broke new ground by testing the effects of two diets in a group of 605 men and women who had suffered a heart attack. During a period of nearly four years, it found that compared to the usual recommended low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet reduced second heart attacks, strokes, hospitalizations, and deaths by 73 percent.
This study was unique in that it looked at people after a heart attack. Many other studies have found that the Mediterranean diet is effective in preventing heart disease.
With nearly a thousand patients in his practice, Steven Masley, MD, has found that a modified version of the Mediterranean diet— incorporating additional research on food and heart function—has restored circulation, blocked further growth of plaque, and even reversed heart disease.
The Ideal Diet
“The ideal diet is a combo of Mediterranean and low-glycemic load—cut out the bread and the rice and the pasta and the sugar to get a full benefit from the Mediterranean diet,” says Masley. “Glycemic” refers to how much different foods raise blood sugar—starchy and sugary foods that produce a bigger rise are high-glycemic.
One study tracked more than 20,000 people in Greece who ate a Mediterranean diet for 10 years. It found that those who ate the least starchy and sugary foods were 40 percent less likely to develop heart disease and 50 percent less likely to die from it.
“Cholesterol is really not the number one cause for heart attack, stroke, and cardiac death,” says Masley. “Blood sugar levels are the strongest predictors.”
What Is the Mediterranean Diet, Really?
Though highly touted by proponents of healthful eating, the Mediterranean diet is widely misunderstood as being based on platefuls of pasta. Having spent much time in Mediterranean regions and even working as a chef in France, Masley is quick to point out that pasta and other grains play a very small role in the traditional diets of the region.
Where we might eat a big plateful of pasta, a true Mediterranean serving would be one-fourth to one-sixth the amount, eaten on a small plate before a main dish of vegetables and protein. Pizza would be one thin-crust slice with a little cheese and sauce, eaten once or twice a month as an appetizer.
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