The health benefits of eating extra fruits and vegetables are well established: for years, children have been told that an apple a day will keep the doctor away.
But now, scientists have identified a diet promoting a much wider range of foods, including fish, poultry and nuts, that they say is much more effective at cutting the risk of heart attacks.
The Dash (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) dieting plan reduces the chances of suffering from heart disease by 18 per cent over 10 years, compared with an average American diet. People who simply up their consumption of fruits and vegetables see an 11 per cent decreased risk, a study shows.
Recommended by the American Heart Association, Dash – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – lowers blood pressure and cuts levels of artery- clogging cholesterol.
Rich in fruit and vegetables, it also focuses on low-fat dairy products, whole grains, nuts, poultry and fish. Fats, sweets, red meat and sugary drinks should be avoided.
Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist, said: ‘Cholesterol causes a problem when it oxidises in the body and the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables prevent that from happening.
People should try to eat as many different colours as possible: they need to eat a rainbow.’ Whole grains, said Dr Glenville, provide fibre, which ‘mixes with the cholesterol in the intestine, helping to push it out of the body’.
Poultry, fish and nuts are good sources of protein, but lower in saturated fats than red meat.
Dr Glenville told the Independent-They also contain more omega 3, which controls inflammation of the arteries and, in some cases, of the heart itself.
‘That inflammation, along with cholesterol, is often the cause of heart disease. Sugary drinks and sweets have the opposite effect.’
A team of US researchers tested the Dash diet’s worth on men and women deemed to be at risk of high blood pressure.
One group ate a ‘normal’ American diet of foods high in fat and low in minerals, another ate similar food but also got their five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
A third followed the Dash diet and had all their meals prepared for them for two months.
Blood pressure and cholesterol were measured at the start and end of the study and used to calculate individual risk of heart problems over the next ten years.
Regularly eating five fruit and veg a day would cut the risk by 7 per cent.
The Dash diet, however, was more than twice as good.
How the diet works…
Fruits and vegetables
Antioxidants from fruit and vegetables are the diet’s most important components. Cholesterol becomes a problem when it oxidises, but this can be stemmed by antioxidants. The pigments in fruits carry different antioxidants.
Low-fat dairy foods
The diet maximises the positive effects of fruits and vegetables, and limits the damage caused by saturated fats in dairy foods by eating low-fat versions.
When the fibre from whole grains is stripped away from foods, they are digested more quickly, causing a rise in blood glucose and bad cholesterol.
Poultry, fish and nuts versus red meat and sugary foods
The former do not have as much saturated fat as the latter and contain Omega-3. Sugar enters the bloodstream quickly, causing high blood glucose and high cholesterol.