By Louise Gagnon The best way to prevent it is to eat healthily, says Louise Gagagnon, PhD, from the University of Toronto.
“What you’re eating matters.
If you’re a vegetarian, then you should be eating vegetarian and you should eat meat-free meals.
And you should make sure you eat more vegetables, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.”
To prevent heart attack and stroke, the University College London researchers tested more than 1,000 people on a range of diet recommendations.
They found that the more people were consuming fruit and vegetables, the lower their risk of both.
“We found that people who ate fruit and/or vegetables had a much lower risk of heart attack or stroke than those who ate a diet high in meat and dairy products,” says Dr Gagagagnan.
“It seems to be quite a straightforward thing to do.”
The team has been conducting the study for the past two years, and the findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Our study has identified a dietary pattern that may be more beneficial for cardiovascular health than traditional diets,” says Professor Mark Coles, from Cardiff University, UK.
“In the US, we know that we should limit saturated fat, sugar and cholesterol, but our data show that we could be more effective by eliminating the high intake of animal protein and dairy foods.”
To avoid heart attack, the researchers recommend eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains and legumes, including beans, lentils, peas, tomatoes, spinach and broccoli.
They also recommend eating plenty of leafy green vegetables and a wide variety of fruits and nuts.
They say this advice could be particularly important for women, who may have more risk factors for heart disease.
“I think women are particularly vulnerable to heart disease because they are more likely to be overweight,” Dr Gagnan says.
“The more they eat a diet low in meat, the less likely they are to be physically active.”
“In a similar way to the dietary advice for cancer prevention, we suggest a healthy balanced diet, where meat, dairy and saturated fat are reduced,” she adds.
“This is one of the reasons why women tend to have higher risks of heart disease.”
The study is a collaborative effort between the University, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (ANHMRC) and the Department of Health.
The researchers will be using a randomized controlled trial design to see how long it takes for heart attacks and strokes to disappear in people.
“There’s not a single way to reduce heart disease, and this is one that may have the potential to be particularly effective,” Dr Coles says.
The results of the trial will also help the team to better understand how long people in the community can eat without becoming obese.
“At the moment, we don’t have good evidence that a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and grains is going to improve the risk of cardiovascular disease,” Dr Paul Widdowson, the chief of nutrition at the University Health Network, says.
Dr Coles agrees, and says that while the research is encouraging, it’s not enough.
“My advice is to stick to the advice you’re already eating,” he says.
For example, if you eat lots of fruit and don’t eat meat, “you should eat a lot of vegetables,” Dr Widdowsons advice.
“But it’s a complex balance.
It’s not something you just add a handful of to your plate and hope that’s going to keep you healthy.”
“We’re still working out the best way of putting it together, but this is a great example of the power of a good diet,” he adds.
The study was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the Australian Science Foundation, the Centre for Research on Heart Disease and Stroke (CRHS), the Medical Research Board, the UK Medical Research Organisation (MRC), the University Hospital of South Australia, the British Heart Foundation and the National Heart Foundation.
Source: University of Sydney/PLOS ONE article Healthline