Last updated by Dr Sarah Brewer on
Researchers from King’s College, London, have found that switching to a healthier diet can reduce your risk of a heart attack or a stroke by almost a third – even when changes are made after middle-age. If you know your diet could be better than it is, this could be just the incentive you need to focus on improvements.
Dietary changes were simple to make
This randomised controlled trial involved 165 healthy, middle-aged non-smokers aged 40 and over. Half were assigned to an ideal diet that met all the major healthy eating guidelines. Those in this group agreed to reduce their intake of sodium and salt, total fat, saturated fatty acids and sugar, while increasing their intake of oily fish (at least one serving a week), fruit and vegetables (five a day) plus at least two daily servings of wholegrains (brown versions of bread and cereals).
They chose low-fat dairy products, replaced cakes and cookies with fruit and nuts, selected lean cuts of meat, avoided processed ham, sausages and hamburgers, and also shunned sugar-sweetened drinks. To top their wholegrain toast, they were given a margarine low in saturated fats, plus a high-oleic sunflower oil for cooking.
Overall, this diet had a lower glycemic index than the participants were used to.
The second group had carte blanche to follow a traditional British diet with no restriction on salt and sugar intake. Their meals were based around refined cereals (white bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, white rice), potatoes and meat with only a limited intake of oily fish (less than once a month) and few wholegrains.
This group was given a butter-based spread to slather on their white bread, and an unhydrogenated vegetable oil for cooking their fry-ups. They were also asked to eat three servings of full-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese) and to eat at least one fruit and two servings of veg each day – the British norm.
This diet had a relatively high glycemic load.
Dietary changes help you live longer
Given that the healthy diet encompassed all the government healthy eating guidelines, while the control diet represented all the things that are considered nutritionally wrong, the results are no great surprise.
Within just 12 weeks, those following the healthy eating diet lost 1.3 kg in weight (compared with a weight gain of 0.6kg in the control group) and lost 1.7 cm from around their waist. Their day-time blood pressure fell by 4.2/2.5 mmHg, cholesterol levels fell by 8% and triglycerides by 9% although – perhaps unusually – there were no changes in insulin sensitivity.
Overall, the metabolic improvements in those following the healthy diet were enough to reduce their risk of experiencing a fatal heart disease or stroke over the next ten years by 15%, and their risk of a non-fatal cardiovascular event by 30%.
Given that these changes were made after middle-age, and based on just 12 weeks of healthier eating, the next question is – how much longer might you live if you adopted these desirable healthy eating changes long-term?
Click here for more information on heathy eating for your heart.
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