Never mind the Mediterranean diet - eating like a Viking can nearly halve the risk of a life-threatening cardiac event, scientists say.

Women regularly eating fish, cabbage, rye bread, oatmeal and root vegetables such as carrots were 45 per cent less likely to have a heart attack.

The same diet in men reduced the risks by almost a quarter, according to a major study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The investigation, by a team at Copenhagen University in Denmark, suggests a Nordic diet is every bit as good at protecting against heart disease as foods eaten in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece.

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It backs up earlier research showing that Scandinavian diets can help to lower blood pressure. Other investigations have found they also protect against type 2 diabetes.

To reduce heart attacks, experts have spent years encouraging us to switch to Mediterranean-style dietary regimes which are rich in fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and olive oil.

But some scientists believe a Viking diet might have more success because it is dominated by foods consumers are traditionally more familiar with - such as oatmeal, apples, pears, fish and root vegetables, particularly carrots.

The Danish team tracked 57,000 men and women aged 50 to 64 for more than 13 years.

They monitored their eating habits and followed them up to see how many went on to suffer heart attacks. In total, 1,669 men and 653 women had serious heart problems in that time.

Women with the highest intake of Nordic-style foods were 45 per cent less likely to fall ill. For men the figure was 23 per cent.

In a report on the findings researchers said fish, rye and oats all help to prevent heart disease.

They added: 'Apples, pears and cabbage are also central parts of the healthy food group of fruit and vegetables.

'And root vegetables - particularly carrots which were the main type of roots consumed in the study - contain beta-carotene, which has also been shown to reduce heart disease.

'We think well-known traditional healthy dietary factors within populations present a good alternative to the Mediterranean diet.

'They should be considered in recommendations for the prevention of heart disease.'