Eating meals that include all ingredients known to improve cardiovascular health could add years to your life, according to new study findings released Friday.
According to an international group of experts’ calculations, if men age 50 and older added almonds, garlic and other heart-healthy ingredients to their daily diets, they might increase their life expectancy by more than 6 years, and spend more time free of cardiovascular disease.
Among women, following the same recipe after age 50 could tack on almost 5 extra years of life, the authors report in the British Medical Journal.
They call their recommended diet the “Polymeal,” playing off the “Polypill” idea, which got a lot of attention last year, of giving everyone a combination pill to prevent heart disease.
The Polymeal includes ingredients that research has consistently shown can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. The menu includes wine, fish, dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, garlic and almonds. All ingredients must be consumed daily in the recommended amounts, except for fish, which research suggests should be eaten four times per week.
To investigate which ingredients to include in the Polymeal, Dr. Oscar H. Franco and his colleagues combed medical reports investigating the influence of different foods on the health of the heart and blood vessels.
Previous research has shown that drinking 150 milliliters of wine every day can reduce cardiovascular disease by 32 percent, while eating fish four times per week cuts the risk of disease by 14 percent.
Treating yourself to 100 grams of dark chocolate every day appears to reduce systolic blood pressure - the top number in a blood pressure reading - by 5 units, and the bottom blood pressure number by almost 2 units, which research suggests may reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems by 20 percent.
Consuming 400 grams of fruits and vegetables does as good a job of reducing blood pressure as dark chocolate, while research shows that both garlic and almonds lower cholesterol, an important factor in protecting people from cardiovascular problems.
Based on calculations using mathematical models, Franco and his colleagues estimate that people who combine these ingredients into Polymeals may have a 76 percent lower risk of cardiovascular problems, and spend many extra years of life with healthy hearts and blood vessels.
Franco, who is based at the University Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, told Reuters Health he hopes that this research encourages people to “focus more on eating a healthy diet as a good means to reduce their heart disease.”
SOURCE: British Medical Journal, December 18/25, 2004.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.