Eating your way to a healthy heart: study shows diet can trump genetics

Media release

19 April 2021

Eating a healthy Mediterranean-style diet can help minimise the risk of heart attack, even for those genetically pre-disposed to heart disease, new research shows.

The findings by Dr Katherine Livingstone from Deakin University's Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) are significant as they help strengthen the case for eating well, particularly among those people most at risk of heart disease.

Dr Livingstone said the research published in BMJ Open presented a clear case for eating a wide variety of healthy foods, rather than restrictive diet regimes.

"Typically, we know that eating well is good for our health, but the link between our diet and our genetic pre-disposition to heart disease has been less clear," Dr Livingstone said.

"This research shows that healthy eating habits are important for reducing our risk of a heart attack, even if we are genetically pre-disposed to heart disease."

For her research, Dr Livingstone used existing data from the UK Biobank, a large population cohort of people aged between 40 and 69 years living in the United Kingdom.

In this analysis, 77,004 men and women were followed up for an average of eight years to understand how their diet and genetics predicted later risk of heart attack.

"As we might expect, individuals had a higher risk of heart attack if they had a genetic pre-disposition to heart disease but, significantly, this risk of heart attack was substantially reduced if they ate a healthier, Mediterranean-style dietary pattern compared to a less healthy, non-Mediterranean-style diet," Dr Livingstone said.

Dr Livingstone said the Mediterranean-style diet was a good example of a healthy overall dietary pattern that included plenty of fruit and vegetables, nuts and fish and less red meat and processed meat.

"This is further evidence of the value of a dietary pattern high in fruit and vegetables and is timely given 2021 has been designated the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables by the United Nations,” Dr Livingstone said.

"Fruits and vegetables play an important role in human nutrition, food security and health and in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

"The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend we eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day. An example of a serve of fruit is a medium apple or banana and a serve of vegetables could be a cup of salad or half a cup of sweetcorn.

"Snacking on fruit and vegetables during the day is a great way to increase your intake. For example, try having some capsicum or sugar snap peas as a snack instead of a biscuit or piece of cake."

*Dr Livingstone's research was conducted using the UK Biobank Resource under Application 34894 and she is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Emerging Leadership Fellowship (APP1173803).

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Media release Faculty of Health, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN)

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