Lead author Mahshid Dehghan, a nutritionist at McMaster University's Population Health Research Institute, said the five-year study of almost 32,000 patients -- average age 66 -- in 40 countries discovered those who ate a heart-healthy diet had a:
-- 35 percent reduction in risk for cardiovascular death.
-- 14 percent reduction in risk for new heart attacks.
-- 28 percent reduction in risk for congestive heart failure.
-- 19 percent reduction in risk for stroke.
"At times, patients don't think they need to follow a healthy diet since their medications have already lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol -- that is wrong," Dehghan said in a statement. "Dietary modification has benefits in addition to those seen with aspirin, angiotensin modulators, lipid-lowering agents and beta blockers."
Participants with cardiovascular disease were asked how often they consumed milk, vegetables, fruits, grains, fish, nuts, meat and poultry over the past 12 months. A healthy diet was indicated by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts as well as a high intake of fish compared to meat, poultry and eggs.
The study, published in the American Heart Association Rapid Access Journal, found a heart-healthy diet offered a "consistent benefit" over and above the benefits of taking medications to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.