A recent study suggests that the low-meat Mediterranean diet, which is also high in fiber, can lower the risk of stroke.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the consumption of plant-based food such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts. This type of diet also replaces unhealthy fat such as butter with healthy fat such as olive oil.

Many medical experts have agreed on the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Ayesha Sherzai of the Columbia University Medical Center, who led the study, reported that consumption of food included in the Mediterranean diet can also lower the risk of ischemic stroke by about 18 percent.

The study involved data analysis of the ongoing California Teachers Study, which was mainly designed to observe dietary patterns and the risk of breast cancer.

The California Teachers Study (CTS) enrolled about 133,500 female teachers from different parts of California in 1994. All the women were asked to fill a questionnaire with some queries about their regular eating habits.

The latest study evaluated the eating habits of the women on a validated 9-point Mediterranean diet scoring system. Sherzai suggested that women were at reduced threat of ischemic stroke also after taking into account other potential factors such as smoking habits, cardiovascular risk and physical activity.

"With stroke being one of the biggest disease burdens in the U.S. and throughout the world, and treatments not being as extensive as we would like them to be, diet is a risk factor that people can control," said Sherzai.

The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association also encourages people to consume a healthy diet to reduce the risks of heart disease. However, only 1 percent of people who are above 50 years old eat a healthy diet, according to Sherzai.

The study's scoring system found that women who followed a diet that was high in fruits and vegetables scored highest on the scale. Women who ate more meat and sugar daily scored less. Sherzai explained that yielding a higher score meant facing reduced risk of stroke, and a lower score meant an increased risk.

Sherzai also said that the findings of the study do not encourage people to strictly follow a Mediterranean diet. However, people should include more vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts, and less saturated fat and meat to reduce the risk of stroke.

Smaller changes such as replacing butter with olive oil, cutting on dairy products, sugar and meat may make a real difference.

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