Adults with higher levels of adherence to the Mediterranean diet -- fish- and plant-based meals inspired by Greek and Italian cuisine -- or one of three other plant-based diets had a 14 percent to 21 percent lower risk for cardiovascular disease, depending on the diet and how closely they stuck to it, researchers said.
Overall, higher compliance with a healthy eating regimen was associated with a 10 to 20 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, the researchers said.
"We found that following a variety of healthy eating patterns confers significant health benefits in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease," study author Dr. Frank B. Hu told UPI.
These heart-healthy diets "share common characteristics such as higher consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, and lower consumption of red and processed meats and added sugar," said Hu, professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
For their study, Hu and his colleagues tracked the heart health of roughly 170,000 women and 43,000 men with no history of heart disease from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Many of the study participants were followed for more than 25 years.
The study evaluated the effects of four dietary approaches on heart disease risk, using various measures of adherence -- the Healthy Eating Index-2015, the Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score, the Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index and the Alternate Healthy Eating Index.
In all, 23,366 cases of heart disease among study participants were reported, including just over 18,000 diagnoses of congestive heart disease and nearly 5,700 strokes.
Compared to those who didn't adhere closely to an eating plan, participants who stuck with the Mediterranean diet reduced their risk for heart disease by 17 percent, while those who scored highly on the Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index lowered their risk by 14 percent, the researchers said.
Meanwhile, participants who scored highly on the Healthy Eating Index-2015 reduced their risk for heart disease by 17 percent, while those who performed well on the Alternate Healthy Eating Index lowered their risk by 21 percent.
"A common misconception is that there is a magic bullet diet to health and longevity," Hu said. "No such magic diet solution exists, [and] there is no one-size-fits-all diet that is best for everyone.
"One can combine healthy foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthily eating patterns according to individuals' health needs, food preferences and cultural traditions."
At least 30 million American adults have been diagnosed with heart disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To lower heart disease risk, the American Heart Association recommends a diet that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, as well as non-tropical vegetable oils.