People diagnosed with heart disease can reduce the risks of strokes and heart attacks with a Mediterranean diet, a study found.

The large-scale international study analyzed over 15,000 participants from 39 countries. The average age of the study participants was 67 years old.

Among the participants who ate the highest amount of Mediterranean foods, the study found that there were three lesser instances of strokes, heart attacks and condition-related deaths per 100 people in the span of 3.7 years.

This was in direct comparison to the group who ate the least amount of the Mediterranean foods during the study period.

Interestingly, the study found that eating the so-called "Western Diet" did not increase the rates of strokes, heart attacks and condition-related deaths among the participants who followed a Mediterranean diet.

This suggested that for heart disease patients, eating more healthy foods was more important than avoiding unhealthy options such as sugary drinks, deep-fried foods and refined carbs altogether.

The study participants had stable coronary artery disease. The researchers asked them to complete a questionnaire that inquired about their consumption of various foods such as dairy foods, meat, grains, fish and more.

The participants were awarded two types of scores - the "Western Diet Score" (WDS) and the "Mediterranean Diet Score" (MDS). When the study ended in 3.7 years, there was a total of 1,588 episodes of stroke, heart attack and condition-related deaths.

This rate covered 10.1 percent of the more than 15,000 participants at the start of the study. Among the patients who had high Mediterranean Diet Scores - 15 points or more - only 7.3 percent suffered a heart-related health event.

The researchers found no substantial variations in the rates of stroke or heart attack and death among the participants whose diets were mostly Western.

Specifically, 10 percent of the total participants drank at least one serving of fizzy drinks daily while 2 percent consumed two servings of deep-fried foods every day.

"The research suggests we should place more emphasis on encouraging people with heart disease to eat more healthy foods, and perhaps focus less on avoiding unhealthy foods," said study lead Professor Ralph Stewart from the Auckland City Hospital.

The research was published in the European Heart Journal on April 24. The main message is that balance is the key to staying healthy and that indulging a bit in the "unhealthy" options that you fancy is not going to cause much harm.

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