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Friday 19th July 2019

Heart patients helped by healthy diet

7th December 2012

Eating a healthy diet cuts the risk of heart attack or stroke, even among people who already have heart disease, a new study has found.


Researchers in Canada say that people who eat a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts are still less likely to die, or experience an adverse cardiovascular event, than those who eat food that is patently unhealthy.

The results held regardless of whether or not the study participants were taking medication, and regardless of which medicines they took.

In the first international, large-scale study to show the impact of a healthy diet on the recurrence of heart attack and stroke in existing heart patients, researchers found that a heart-healthy diet resulted in a 35% lower risk of heart or stroke-related death, a 14% lower risk of heart attack. It was also associated with a 28% lower risk of heart failure and a 19% lower risk of stroke.

According to Mahshid Dehghan, research associate at McMaster University in Ontario, eating fruits and vegetables substantially reduces the recurrence of cardiovascular disease, and is demonstrably better than just taking medication.

The data used in the study came from two separate clinical trials of hypertension medicines, which involved 31,546 adults ages 55 and older in 14 countries around the world.

All participants were regarded as having a high risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes with organ damage or peripheral arterial disease.

They answered questions about their dietary habits, including the frequency with which they had consumed fruit, vegetables, grains, fish, meat, poultry and dairy products during the past year.

Diets that included higher proportions of fish relative to meat, poultry and eggs, as well as those that skipped deep-fried foods for whole grains were given a higher relative score.

Those who ate the most unhealthy diets were more likely to suffer further heart attacks, strokes or death from cardiovascular events than those with the healthier scores.

This result was clear, even after nationality, income level, age and other heart disease risks had been factored in.

Overall, 5,190 heart- or stroke-related problems were reported during the follow-up period.

According to Dehghan, the results should dispel the belief among some patients that it is enough to take medication to reduce the risk of further problems.

He said that patients often thought there was no need to change what they ate once they were on medication, and that health professionals had not emphasised enough the importance of diet for heart health.

Meanwhile, dietitian Angela Ginn said that many older people with heart disease often believed they were too old to change their habits, and that the current study should encourage them to make healthy food choices.

She recommended small changes like more whole-grain fibre, dropping butter in favour of olive oil, and ensuring that fruit and vegetables take up half the plate at mealtimes.

She said people should aim to eat fish twice a week and cut down on salt.

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