Researchers at the University of Leeds have shown that greater dietary fibre intake is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.
Dr Victoria Burley, from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds and senior author of the study, says, ''It has previously been difficult to demonstrate the long-term influence of diet on heart attacks or strokes. For the first time, our research has shown the long-term benefits, even with quite small increases in fibre intake.''
In recent years, a decline in both cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) has been seen in some European countries and the United States. However, it still remains a significant issue accounting for almost half (48 per cent) and a third (34 per cent) of all deaths in Europe and the United States.
Many studies have examined the relationship between dietary fibre or fibre-rich foods and CVD risk factors, such as high blood pressure and raised blood cholesterol.
In the new study, the researchers reviewed literature published since 1990 in healthy populations concerning dietary fibre intake and CVD risk, taking data from six electronic databases in the US, Europe, Japan and Australia.
They observed a significantly lower risk of both CVD and CHD with every additional 7g per day of fibre consumed. An additional 7g of fibre can be achieved through one portion of wholegrains (found in bread, cereal, rice, pasta) plus two to four servings of fruit and vegetables or a portion of beans or lentils.
''Although the Department of Health has encouraged people to eat high fibre foods since the early 1990s, most people in the UK are still not getting anywhere near enough dietary fibre,'' said Dr Burley. ''Hopefully our findings will show how even a small change to your diet can greatly improve your health.''
This research adds to the growing body of work showing the health benefits of eating more fibre.
Lowers risk of first-time stroke
Earlier last year, the same research team showed that an increase in fibre intake may lower the risk of a first-time stroke
Dietary fibre is the part of the plant that the body is unable to completely digest. Fibre rich foods include wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Previous research has shown that dietary fibre may help reduce risk factors for stroke, including obesity, high blood pressure and high blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) ''bad'' cholesterol.
Whilst it is recommended that adults eat between 18 and 25g of fibre each day, the average intake amongst British adults is only 14g. The study showed that a seven gram increase in dietary fibre per day was associated with a seven percent decrease in first-time stroke risk. This is the equivalent of one serving of whole wheat pasta and two servings of fruits or vegetables.
''Increasing your fibre intake doesn't necessarily mean wholesale change to your diet. It might just mean switching from white bread to wholemeal, or from corn flakes to bran flakes. It's a simple measure with a lot of benefits,'' said Dr Victoria Burley, the project lead from the School of Food Science and Nutrition.
The researchers analysed, and combined the results of, eight studies published between 1990 and 2012. The studies reported on all types of stroke with four also examining the particular risk of ischemic stroke, which occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel to the brain, and three also assessing the particular risk of haemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel bleeds into the brain or on its surface.
''Any long-term increase in intake of fibre-rich foods such as whole-grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts will see the risk of stroke reduce. This could be particularly important for people with stroke risk factors like being overweight, smoking and having high blood pressure,'' said Diane Threapleton, the lead author of the study who conducted the research as part of her PhD.