The Mediterranean diet and its many health benefits has featured numerous times recently in our newspapers.

The Guardian published an interesting article entitled “Mediterranean diet 'as effective as statins' in reducing heart attack risk” (September 2015).

So just what is a ‘Mediterranean diet’?

Well, a Mediterranean diet involves eating much more fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and fish, whilst cutting down on meat and dairy consumption.

Olive oil is used as a staple and an alternative to butter.

Healthier ways of cooking food are chosen, such as steaming, poaching, baking, and stir-frying, whilst frying or roasting food in fat are avoided.

Flavour can be added to food using spices, herbs and lemon juice rather than using buttery, cheesy or creamy sauces that tend to be high in fat or salt, which can raise your blood pressure.

Often red wine is taken (in moderation).

I was intrigued to look further at these claims of this type of diet being ‘as effective’ as drugs at lowering your heart attack risks.

These assertions have been based on research conducted and expert advice from leading UK doctors, and appear very credible:

Cardiovascular disease and events (such as heart attacks and strokes) account for at least a third of deaths in the UK. “For most middle-aged people wishing to avoid heart disease, a healthy diet offers a far more powerful, sustainable and enjoyable plan than lifelong statin tablets,” said Prof Simon Capewell, vice-president of the UK Faculty of Public Health.

When doctors are discussing treatment options with those in danger of a stroke or heart attack how to reduce their risk, patients should be counselled about the nature and value of a healthy diet. A Mediterranean diet in moderation, with as little processed food as possible, is a cardiovascular intervention tested in randomised trials and shown to reduce CVD events.

While such measures can cost money and be inconvenient they “rarely include significant harm risk, can prolong life, and have the added benefit of substantial non-cardiovascular benefits”.

I think the bottom line is that, sometimes, taking a few prescription pills a day is MUCH easier than modifying your diet significantly…

We all want to keep eating the things we love, the things that taste good to us, the things we are used to.

But take a look at this - only a limited percentage of patients benefit from statins, which also can have side-effects, such as muscle aches in 5% to 10% of those taking them and diabetes in one in 100 cases.

And while they can prevent one in 40 people who have already had a stroke or a heart attack from having another, only between one in 50 and one in 200 relatively healthy people who have never suffered either event live longer as a result of taking statins, the experts say.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee states that “Any decision on treatment should look at wider factors, including lifestyle, and empower patients to make informed choices about their own healthcare choices.” 

In practice, time is a huge issue - GP surgeries and doctors are under so much pressure these days, and TIME in a consultation is often limited and rushed. 

Dr Chaand Nagpaul emphasized that it was important that GPs have long enough with a patient in a consultation to discuss in detail the different options for countering their risk of cardiovascular disease. 

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