Leading heart experts said patients should be prescribed the diet - rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and olive oil - before being put on drugs.
In the first major study to look at the impact of the Med diet on survival of heart patients, experts found it cut the chances of early death by 37 per cent.
Previous research has found just taking statins cuts mortality by 18 per cent. Experts said the figures were not directly comparable, and that many heart patients could get maximum benefit by doing both.
But they said the results were so remarkable that the state should consider handing out free fruit and vegetables, or subsidising such produce, to encourage the public to change its eating habits. Seven million people in Britain live with heart disease.
The diet regime is already known to have a powerful protective effect against a number of diseases, including diabetes and cancer.
Experts hailed the new findings, presented at the world's biggest heart conference in Rome, Italy, as “extraordinary”, showing that the diet was “more powerful than any drug”.