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Eat well now, benefit for life, say scientists

By Colin Ricketts - 23 Mar 2011 14:23:0 GMT
Eat well now, benefit for life, say scientists

A minute on the lips a lifetime on the hips is the dieter's mantra, but eating healthily can have similarly long-lasting beneficial effects according to a new study from Northwestern Medicine.

Scientists found that eating a high fibre diet when young and middle-aged can help protect from heart disease in later life. While eating well in old age may be acting too late to have beneficial effects the study found that those between 20 and 59-years-of-age with the highest fibre intake lowered their risk of cardiovascular for life.

The study, which is presented today (March 23) at the American Heart Association's Nutrition Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention Scientific Sessions in Atlanta, Georgia, is the first known study to show that eating a high-fibre diet has such an effect.

''It's long been known that high-fibre diets can help people lose weight, lower cholesterol and improve hypertension,'' said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., corresponding author of the study and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. ''The results of this study make a lot of sense because weight, cholesterol and hypertension are major determinants of your long-term risk for cardiovascular disease.''

The definition of a high-fibre diet used by the researchers was that recommended by the American Heart Association: at least 25 grams of dietary fibre a day. The scientists also recommend a natural wholefood diet rather than processed foods as Professor Lloyd-Jones explained.

''A processed food may be high in fibre, but it also tends to be pretty high in sodium and likely higher in calories than an apple, for example, which provides the same amount of fibre,'' he said.

Hongyan Ning, M.D., lead author and a statistical analyst in the department of preventive medicine at Feinberg, used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative sample of about 11,000 adults for the study.

He looked at diet, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and diabetes history to come up with a formula to predict lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.

''The results are pretty amazing,'' he said. ''Younger - 20 to 39 years - and middle-aged - 40 to 59 years - adults with the highest fibre intake, compared to those with the lowest fibre intake, showed a statistically significant lower lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.''

Ning also found that an increased fibre intake while in old age seemed to have little effect, suggesting it's time to think of the future.