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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Move over Mediterranean diet -- a new study shows that following the Southern European Atlantic Diet may also help protect the heart -- as long as you don't follow it too closely.
Residents of northern Portugal and a region in northwest Spain known as Galicia have "very low" rates of death from heart disease, Dr. Andreia Oliveira of the University of Porto Medical School in Porto, Portugal and colleagues note. In fact, heart disease death rates in this region are similar to those of France, Italy and Greece, where people tend to stick to a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits and vegetables, olive oil, whole grains and nuts, and relatively low in dairy products and red meat.
The Southern European Atlantic Diet, the traditional diet of northern Portugal and Galicia, consists of lots of fish, especially cod; red meat; pork; dairy products; legumes; vegetables; potatoes; and wine with meals, Oliveira and colleagues explain.
To investigate whether this eating pattern might have something to do with the low heart disease risk in the region, the researchers looked at 820 people who suffered a heart attack and 2,196 people who'd never suffered a heart attack who lived in the same area.
People whose diets adhered most closely to the Southern European Atlantic Diet (SEAD) were at 33 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to those whose eating patterns were the least adherent, the researchers found.
Every one-point increase on the 9-point scale (with 9 indicating the most adherent) was associated with a 10-percent lower risk of heart disease.
But the researchers also found this traditional pattern might benefit from a little tweaking. When they rated participants' diet based on adherence to the SEAD -- but took away points for red meat, pork and potatoes -- those who followed this pattern most closely were at 60 percent lower risk of having a heart attack.
"The benefits of the SEAD on coronary heart disease are a bit lower than those of the Mediterranean diet. If the consumption of potatoes and red meat is reduced, the coronary benefits of SEAD could be very similar to those of the Mediterranean diet," Oliveira noted in an email to Reuters Health. "Like the Mediterranean diet," the researcher added, "the SEAD is highly palatable."
"We still need to learn about the health effects of the SEAD on other important diseases, like obesity, stroke, and several types of cancer," Oliveira concluded.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online May 19, 2010.