Washington: It's well established that a healthy diet can protect your heart against disease. But a new study shows that eating well can even mitigate risks for people whose genes put them at a higher than normal risk of heart problems.

In the study, published on Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine, researchers honed in on several DNA sequence variations on chromosome 9p21, which they call "one of the most robust genetic associations for cardiovascular disease."

In an interview with WebMD, researcher Sonia S. Anand of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, says that around 20 percent of people "carry at least one copy of the bad gene."

The researchers, using data from two prior large-scale studies, examined the effects of a healthy diet and an unhealthy diet on more than 27,000 people, some of whom had the high-risk genes. Subjects were of varying ethnicities.

While the two studies assessed "healthy" food in different ways, subjects who ate diets rich in vegetables and fruits were generally considered healthy eaters. Special points went to subjects who consumed plenty of raw vegetables in particular. "Risk" foods included fried foods, meat, and salty snacks.

The findings showed that those subjects with bad genes who consumed a lot of unhealthy foods increased their risk of heart attack by 30 percent, the researchers said.

While the results don't suggest that a healthy diet can overcome all variants, it does hold promise that people have more control over their heart health than they think.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide -- but the good news is that you can reduce your risks by following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and reducing stress.

(Courtesy: Mid-day.com)