They found an increase in dietary fibre – especially cereals – was linked with lower death rates.
Those who ate the most fibre had a 25 per cent lower chance of dying in the nine years after their heart attack compared with those who ate the least, according to a study.
Every 10g per day increase in fibre intake was associated with a 15 per cent reduced risk of dying over a nine-year follow-up period. US researchers behind the study, published on bmj.com, say that as more people survive heart attacks, it is important to find out what lifestyle changes they can make to cut the risk of dying.
The research team, based in Boston, analysed data from two big US studies, the Nurses’ Health Study of 121,700 female nurses and the Health Professional Follow-up Study of 51,529 male health professionals. The study looked at 2,258 women and 1,840 men who survived a first heart attack during the course of the studies.
They were followed for an average of almost nine years afterwards, during which time 682 of the women and 451 of the men died.
The top quintile – the one in five who ate most fibre – had a 25 per cent lower chance of dying from any cause during the nine years after their heart attack compared with the bottom quintile.
Of the three different fibre types – cereal, fruit and vegetable – only higher cereal fibre intake was strongly linked with an increased chance of long-term survival after a heart attack. Breakfast cereal was the main source of dietary fibre for the participants.
Findings were adjusted for factors that could affect lifespan, including age, medical history and other dietary and lifestyle habits.
It has been previously found that people who have a high intake of dietary fibre are less likely to develop coronary heart disease.
Fibre’s benefits include reducing blood cholesterol, improving blood glucose levels and lowering blood pressure.
The researchers say heart attack survivors have a higher risk of dying than the general population and are often more motivated to make changes to their lifestyle.
Of the three different fibre types ¿ cereal, fruit and vegetable ¿ only higher cereal fibre intake was strongly linked with an increased chance of long-term survival after a heart attack
Yet treatment to improve their chances of living longer generally neglects advising a healthier lifestyle in favour of long-term medication, they say.
Fibre works by reducing blood cholesterol, improving blood glucose levels, lowering blood pressure, promoting weight loss and binding to cancer-causing agents, making them more likely to be excreted by the body.
The UK’s nutritional goals and guidelines are for people to eat 440g of fruit and vegetables every day and 18g of fibre.
A study from Oxford University found 4,000 premature deaths a year could be prevented by increasing dietary fibre.
Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said ‘High-fibre foods are a key part of a healthy balanced diet and this study suggests they may have a particular benefit for heart attack survivors.
‘We can’t say for sure what caused the fibre benefit seen here. But we do know that, on average, we’re not getting enough fibre in our diets.
‘Fibre comes from a range of foods including fruit and veg, beans and lentils and also from cereal products, which this study found to be particularly beneficial.
‘To get more fibre, you can make simple swaps such as trading white bread for wholegrain versions or opting for higher fibre breakfast cereals like porridge or muesli.’