For decades public health officials have recommended eating a lot of fruits and vegetables to improve your health and prevent diseases.

A new study suggests that people who with a family history of heart disease  and genes that increase their likelihood of developing the disease can lower their risk by eating plenty of fruit and raw vegetables. 

It says five or more daily portions should be enough to counteract culprit versions of a gene on chromosome 9, thought to be possessed by a 20 percent of people of European ancestry.

Healthy diets appeared to reduce its effect.

The Canadian researchers investigated more than 27,000 people for their work.

These participants came from around the globe, including Europe, China and Latin America.

The results suggest that individuals with high risk 9p21 gene versions who consumed a diet packed with raw vegetables, fruits and berries had a similar risk of heart attack as those with a low-risk variant of the same gene.

Foods that count:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables
  • Dried fruit, such as currants, dates, sultanas and figs
  • Tinned or canned fruit and vegetables
  • Fruit and vegetables cooked in dishes such as soups, stews or pasta dishes
  • A glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100% fruit or vegetable juice
  • Smoothies
  • Beans and pulses; these only count as one portion a day, no matter how many you eat

Researcher Prof Sonia Anand, of McMaster University, said: “Our results support the public health recommendation to consume more than five servings of fruits or vegetables as a way to promote good health.”

The scientists, who also included staff from McGill University, say they now need to do more work to establish how diet might have this effect on genes.