Dr. Ramón Estruch from Barcelona's Department of Internal Medicine led a study that followed participants and tracked their rates for heart attacks, stroke and heart disease, The New England Journal of Medicine reported.
The researchers divided the participants into three groups, one group ate according to the Mediterranean diet high in extra-virgin olive oil, another one ate according to the Mediterranean diet high in nuts and a third group ate a low-fat diet rich in lean proteins.
The participants in the Mediterranean group were asked to replace red meats with white meats like chicken and turkey, and eat three or more servings of fish per week, as well as three or more servings of fruit and two or more servings of vegetables a day. The participants eating the low-fat diet were also asked to eat three or more servings of fish or seafood a week and the same amount of fruits and vegetables.
The study took place over the course of five years, after which point the changes in one of the test groups were so remarkable they stopped the experiment early.
The results showed the group with the least risk of heart problems and lowest rate of heart disease deaths was the one that followed the Mediterranean diet rich in extra virgin-olive oil with a 30 percent lower risk of the outcomes than the low-fat diet. The group consuming the Mediterranean diet high in nuts came in second with a 28% percent lower risk of the outcomes than the low-fat diet.
While many studies have linked a Mediterranean diet to a healthier lifestyle, no study had randomly assigned participants to eat specific diets and then tracked their heart-disease risks like this study did, Time noted.
“We think the strength of this study comes from the fact that we measured hard outcomes and not just blood pressure or changes in cholesterol levels,” says Estruch. “We really believe the Mediterranean diet lowers incidence of [heart attack], stroke and cardiovascular deaths.”
To learn more about the Mediterranean diet and Estruch's research visit Time.com.