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Healthy foods that protect against heart disease and stroke

Friday April 20th, 2012

Increasing fibre intake and eating low-fat dairy foods could help to protect against heart disease and stroke, two new reports from Sweden have shown.

The first study, published in the Public Library of Science journal One, analysed the eating habits of more than 20,000 people in Malmö and focused on 13 different nutrients such as fibre, fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

Peter Wallström, a researcher at Lund University and the primary author, found that women who ate a high fibre diet reduced their risk of heart disease by 25 per cent, while in men it helped to reduce the risk of stroke.

Although the reason for the difference between the sexes is unclear, it is possible that women eat fibre from healthier food sources, such as fruit and vegetables, than men, who tended to get most of their fibre from bread.

“The difference in the results for men and women shows that we need to pay more attention to gender when we conduct research on diet,” said Wallström.

The study did not find any links between the proportion of saturated fat or sugar in the diet and heart disease, although Wallström admitted the results should be viewed with caution.

Meanwhile, in the largest study to date to examine the risk between low-fat, full-fat and specific dairy foods and the risk of stroke, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm has found that people who eat low-fat yoghurt and cheese and drink low-fat milk have a lower risk of stroke compared to those who have full-fat equivalent.

Writing in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, Dr Susanna Larsson said the benefits of low-fat dairy foods are likely due to the calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin D.

A total of 74,961 adults 45 to 83 years old completed a 96-item food and beverage questionnaire to determine dietary habits.

Those who ate low-fat dairy foods had a 12 per cent lower risk of stroke and a 13 per cent lower risk of ischemic stroke than those who ate high-fat dairy foods.

During the 10-year follow-up, 4,089 strokes occurred (1,680 in women and 2,409 in men): 3,159 ischemic, 583 hemorrhagic and 347 unspecified strokes.

“From a public health perspective, if people consume more low-fat dairy foods rather than high-fat dairy foods, they will benefit from a reduced risk of stroke and other positive health outcomes,” said Dr Larrson, associate professor of epidemiology in the Division of Nutritional Epidemiology, National Institute of Environmental Medicine, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

“It is possible that vitamin D in low-fat dairy foods may explain, in part, the observed lowered risk of stroke in this study because of its potential effect on blood pressure.”

However, she called for more research on the link between low-fat dairy consumption and risk of stroke.

Dietary Fiber and Saturated Fat Intake Associations with Cardiovascular Disease Differ by Sex in the Malmö Diet and Cancer Cohort: A Prospective Study. Wallström P et al. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31637. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031637

Dairy Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Swedish Women and Men. Larsson S et al. Stroke. DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.111.641944

Tags: Diet & Food | Europe | Heart Health

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