Health and nutrition experts say they need to ‘get the word out’ about a lesser-known diet which has shown in a long-term study that it reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Developed by researchers from Harvard University, the ‘portfolio diet’ combines a number of healthy diet patterns, and comprises a wide range of foods which can lower cholesterol.

While it is not as well-known as the Mediterranean diet, for example, there is some overlap with some of the more established dietary patterns.

Those following the portfolio diet are recommended to replace red meat with plant-based proteins. They are also encouraged to consume fibre-rich food like oatmeal and nuts which contain healthy fats.

The portfolio diet does focus more on plant-based foods compared to other dietary programmes.

Creator Dr David J.A. Jenkins said: “We want people to look at the combinations of foods – in real diets for real people in the real world – that will carry off, as in the financial world, a range of benefits weighted against reducing a range of risks.”

The main goal of the portfolio diet is to improve heart health, rather than weight loss.

The team behind its development studied data from people who followed the diet for 30 years, in the first long-term study of its kind.

They found those who followed the portfolio diet had a 14% lower risk of heart disease and stroke in comparison to those who followed a standard diet.

Their research involved more than 210,000 healthcare professionals who took part in three separate national studies that began in the 1980s to evaluate risk factors for serious diseases.

The participants completed comprehensive questionnaires about their eating habits every four years for 30 years.

Researchers analysed blood plasma samples and discovered that the portfolio diet was associated with less inflammation in the body, which can lead to narrowed arteries because of the build-up of harmful plaques containing the ‘bad’ cholesterol, LDL.

Restricted blood flow significantly raises a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke.

The study’s co-author, Dr Andrea Glenn, a nutrition expert at Harvard University, said: “Through this research, we found that the portfolio diet score was consistently associated with a lower risk of both heart disease and stroke, highlighting an opportunity for people to lower their heart disease risk through consuming more of these foods recommended in the diet.”

Nutrition expert Dr Kristina Petersen, from Penn State University, co-authored last spring’s statement from the American Heart Association which scored 10 popular diets according to their benefits for heart health.

Dr Peterson said the portfolio diet did not make their list simply because “it’s not particularly common” but went on to say: “We’re always looking at ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, and one effective way to do that is to lower blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol.

“It’s not an all-or-nothing approach. You can take your own diet and make a few small changes and see cardiovascular benefits.

“You also do not have to follow it as a strict vegan or vegetarian diet to see benefits, but the more of the foods [from the portfolio diet] that you eat, the greater your heart disease risk protection, as we saw in the current study. We need to get the word out.”

The study has been published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

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