VARIETY on our meal tables holds the key to a long and healthy life.
Food that contains anti-oxidants, wholegrain and vital fatty acids can cut the risk of killer illnesses including heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, a study shows.
Scientists found that the diet could reduce cholesterol – a significant cause of heart disease – by a third and bring blood pressure down by nearly a tenth.
But rather than just a narrow range of foods being responsible for boosting health, the research showed that the answer was a widely varied diet that might include oily fish, porridge oats and blueberries.
Nutritionist Angela Dowden said: “The key is definitely to introduce these kinds of foods into the diet. It is a very healthy diet and completely proves the point that it is about healthy eating as a whole, not just doing one thing.
“It is a lifestyle change instead of tweaks here and there. It could be that it is just one of the foods that is producing these effects but it is much more likely that it is an additive affect of them all contributing.
“I think this study is very interesting and it is showing time and time again that it is about an additive approach, not just doing one thing.”
Ms Dowden, who was not part of the research group, added: “This is another spin on the Mediterranean diet.“All of these foods have independently been shown to have some health benefits so it makes sense that they have a big impact when combined.”
It has long been known that keeping active and a healthy diet can hold back the onset of a range of diseases like heart problems and cancer.
Previous studies have put this down to eating lots of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables and nuts, others to a diet rich in fish containing essential fatty acids, like fresh mackerel, and some to wholegrain cereals.
But the results of the study carried out at Ant diabetic Food Centre at Lund University in Sweden have shown that it is multiple rather than just single foods with anti-inflammatory effects that work wonders.
Inger Björck, professor of food-related nutrition at the university and head of the Ant diabetic Food Centre, who carried out the research, said: “The results have exceeded our expectations. I would like to claim that there has been no previous study with similar effects on healthy subjects. Our purpose was to find out which preventive effect can be obtained on established risk markers by combining food concepts with an expected positive impact on inflammation.
“We hope that these results on healthy subjects will inspire more intense preventive efforts in society.”
She said it was not possible to tell precisely which food factors had a greater or lesser impact on the research results.
“That’s the point,” she added. “We believe in the idea of combined effects. Drug or specific products with health claims affect only one or maybe a couple of risk factors.
“By a combination of food you can in a simple and striking way affect many risk parameters simultaneously.”
The study saw 44 healthy but overweight people between the ages of 50 and 75 take part.
They ate foods which are presumed to reduce low-grade inflammation in the body, a condition which in turn triggers metabolic syndrome which leads to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The test diet was high in antioxidants, low-GI foods – which release carbohydrates slowly – omega fatty acids, wholegrain products, probiotics and viscous dietary fiber.
Examples of foods the test group ate included oily fish, barley, soy protein, blueberries, almonds, cinnamon, vinegar and a certain type of wholegrain bread.
The results showed that the diet slashed bad cholesterol by 33 per cent, lipids – blood fats – by 14 per cent, blood pressure by 8 per cent and a risk marker for blood clots by 26 per cent.
A marker of inflammation in the body was also greatly reduced, while memory and cognitive function were improved.
Inflammation is thought by some experts to be one of the chief causes of chronic diseases.
It can lead to cells becoming damaged and turning cancerous and inflammation has been linked to a higher risk of developing heart disease.
This is Britain’s biggest killer, claiming the lives of one in five men and one in seven women.
About 2.6 million people in this country have Type 2 diabetes, which is caused by poor diet and a lack of exercise.
More than 820,000 people have a form of dementia, with more than half suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. By 2025, a million people will have dementia, soaring to 1.7 million by 2051.