Based on the questionnaire responses, researchers calculated a Mediterranean diet score. They also identified five dietary patterns. One, which they termed the “Southern” eating pattern, has large amounts of added fats, fried food, eggs, organ and processed meats, and sugar‐sweetened beverages. Other dietary patterns included a “sweets” pattern heavy on added sugar, a “convenience” pattern made mainly of ready-to-eat foods and take-out, a “plant-based” pattern,” and an “alcohol and salad” pattern.
The researchers assessed how closely participants adhered to each dietary pattern. For example, someone could adhere closely to the Mediterranean diet while also adhering to the “sweets” pattern, but to a lesser degree. They also recorded any heart-related events over an average of 10 years.
More than 400 sudden cardiac deaths occurred during the study. Analyses showed that regularly eating a Southern-style diet may increase the risk of sudden cardiac death, while consuming a Mediterranean diet may reduce risk.
Participants with a Southern dietary pattern had a 46% higher risk of sudden cardiac death than those with the lowest adherence. In contrast, people closely following the Mediterranean diet had a 26% lower risk of sudden cardiac death than others with the least adherence. These differences were of borderline statistical significance (not enough to prove they weren’t due to chance or some other factor). Among those with no coronary heart disease at the start of the study, those closely following the Mediterranean diet had a statistically significant 41% reduction in risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those with the least adherence.
“While this study was observational in nature, the results suggest that diet may be a modifiable risk factor for sudden cardiac death,” Shikany says.
These results support other findings that improving your diet can have a significant effect on heart health.