Eating just one or two pieces of fruit every day cuts the risk of a heart attack or stroke by up to 40 per cent, according to new research.
A seven-year study of nearly half a million people by Oxford University found that those who always included fruit in their daily diet had far lower rates of heart disease and the two main types of stroke.
Consumption of fruit was recorded into five categories: never, monthly, one to three days per week, four to six days per week, and daily.
The more often people ate fruit, the more their risks fell.
Researchers found that compared to people who never ate fruit, those who ate it daily cut their rates of cardiovascular disease – which causes heart attacks and heart failure – by 15 per cent.
Rates of for ischaemic stroke – the most common type of stroke -fell by 25 per cent among those who ate fruit daily, and cases of haemorrhagic stroke reduced by 40 per cent.
Those who consumed fruit daily also had significantly lower blood pressure, according to the research, presented to the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona.
The study did not examine whether health improvements increased depending on how many pieces of fruit people ate per day.
But among those who ate it daily, the average intake was 1.5 portions – far short of Goverrnment recommendations to eat five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day.
In March a study by University College London found that eating seven portions of fruit and vegetables reduces risks of deaths from all causes by 42 per cent.
Latest official figures show that just one in four Britons meet the “five a day” recommendations, with average consumption of four portions of fruit and vegetables daily.
The study in China included 451,681 people with no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) at the start of the research.
Over the seven year follow up period there were 19,300 cases of heart disease and 19,689 strokes.
Nearly one in five (18 per cent) of the participants consumed fruit daily while 6.3 per cent never consumed fruit.
Oxford University researcher Doctor Huaidong Du said: "Cardiovascular disease, including ischaemic heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death worldwide.
"Our data clearly shows that eating fresh fruit can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, including ischaemic heart disease and stroke - particularly haemorrhagic stroke. And not only that, the more fruit you eat the more your CVD risk goes down.
The study found that those who ate fruit daily had “significantly lower” blood pressure – with 3.4/4.1mmHg lower systolic/diastolic blood pressure than those who never ate it.
Tracy Parker, Heart Health Dietician at the British Heart Foundation, which helped conduct the study, said: “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that shows the more fruit and vegetables we eat the better our heart health. Even eating just one more portion a day helped lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, which should give us all that extra incentive."