Regularly eating fish, wine, dark chocolate, fruits and vegetables, garlic and almonds could extend the life expectancy of men by 6.6 years and women by 4.8 years, says the team from Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
The regime has been dubbed a 'polymeal?in reference to a report in the same journal last year that described the potential benefits of a 'polypill?
The pill, combining aspirin, folic acid and cholesterol-lowering and blood pressure drugs, could reduce risk of heart disease - the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in Western populations ?by more than 80 per cent, according to the advocates.
But the Rotterdam researchers say that the polymeal would achieve roughly the same effect at lower costs and with less risk of side effects.
"The Polymeal promises to be an effective, non-pharmacological, safe and tasty alternative [to the Polypill] for reducing cardiovascular morbidity and increasing life expectancy in the general population," write Oscar H Franco and colleagues.
Heart disease kills nearly one in three people in the world each year, according to the World Health Organisation, and although more is known about how to prevent the disease, it is limited by high costs and low compliance.
But research into natural food components that can protect the heart from the fatal disease is increasing and has triggered consumer interest in functional foods. Foods designed to tackle heart health are set to grow 7.6 per cent in the UK market, according to Datamonitor, to reach sales of ?45 million in the UK alone by 2007.
This market will be further boosted by the new BMJ report.
Dr Franco's team searched medical literature to find foods that have been proven to lower the risk of heart disease. They found that drinking 150ml of wine a day cuts the risk by 32 per cent, while fish consumed four times a week reduces it by 14 per cent. A daily intake of 100g of dark chocolate and 400g of fruit and vegetables lower blood pressure, further cutting the risk of heart disease. Garlic and almonds both lower cholesterol levels.
"Combining all the ingredients of the Polymeal resulted in cardiovascular disease being reduced by 76 per cent," they write. "Whether increasing the amount of each ingredient would increase the effect of the Polymeal is uncertain. On the other hand, decreasing the quantities could be expected to reduce the effects of the Polymeal."
Men would not only have a longer life expectancy, but also live nine years longer without heart disease, while women would be free of it for eight years longer.
The major advantage to the Polymeal is its lack of serious side-effects compared to the Polypill.
"No additional adverse effects should be expected from the other ingredients of the Polymeal (in the quantities recommended here) except in people who are allergic to the components. Another advantage of the Polymeal is that its ingredients can be taken combined as a meal or individually at different times of the day," continue the researchers.
They add that the Polymeal ingredients are generally well tolerated and appreciated among the general population, and compliance with the regime could be enhanced by distribution of specific recipes using the Polymeal ingredients.