Heart disease is better treated with a Mediterranean-style diet than cholesterol-lowering drugs, it has been claimed.
A study found those who had a diet rich in vegetables, nuts, fish and oils were a third less likely to die early, compared with those who ate larger quantities of red meat, such as beef, and butter.
Speaking at a global conference on heart disease in Rome, leading heart disease expert Professor Giovanni de Gaetano said: "So far research has focused on the general population, which is mainly composed of healthy people. What happens to people who have already suffered from cardiovascular disease? Is the Mediterranean diet optimal for them too?"
The conference was told those who ate mainly along Mediterranean lines were 37% less likely to die during the study than those who were furthest from this dietary pattern.
Previously, cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins were believed to be the most effective method of combating heart disease, the leading cause of death in the UK.
Statins are said to help reduce major heart problems by around 24%. They are the most widely-prescribed drug in the UK, with at least seven million users costing the NHS £285 million a year.
According to the latest figures from the British Heart Foundation, cardiovascular disease causes more than a quarter (27%) of all deaths in the UK - around 155,000 deaths each year - an average of 425 people each day or one death every three minutes.