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Eating fresh fruit daily appears to significantly lower the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke and other causes before age 80, according to a study by British researchers.

Scientists at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund at Oxford University recruited more than 11,000 adults, ages 45 and older, into the study to find out what effect different diets had on death rates.

Most participants reported healthful eating habits. More than 75 percent of those in the study reported eating fresh fruit daily, 62 percent ate whole-grain bread daily, about half were vegetarians, nearly 40 percent of participants consumed nuts or dried fruit every day, 38 percent ate fresh salad daily, and more than 25 percent reported eating bran cereals every day.

Researchers tracked people in the study for an average of 17 years. During that time, there were 1,343 deaths in the group that occurred prior to age 80, or about half the expected deaths.

While eating whole-grain bread seemed to produce some protection, "the most striking finding that emerged was in relation to eating fresh fruit," said Timothy A.J. Key, lead author of the study.

Those who ate fresh fruit daily had 24 percent fewer heart attacks, 32 percent fewer strokes and 21 percent fewer deaths from all causes compared with those who did not.

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