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Coronary heart disease is a major killer in the world - and it's generally linked to diet and lifestyle - the good news in this of course, is that you can change your diet and lifestyle if you want to.

It's often reported that a 'mediterranean' style diet will lessen your chances of developing coronary heart disease, but what exactly is a mediterranean style diet?

Fish, oils, vegetables - a little meat - look at an Italian meat meal for instance - invariably, you use only a small amount of meat in a vegetable sauce. Typically, 1lb (450g) or less of meat will serve four people. If you were serving roast beef or a steak, how much meat would you have on your plate? A lot more than 4 oz I bet. There's much less heart disease in Mediterranean countries and it's not a coincidence.

And as an aside here - look at Sophia Loren who was born in 1934 - she's over 70 years old - she attributes her looks and overall wellbeing to a daily pasta meal - hey, maybe we should all go that route!

The British Heart Foundation recommends the following as a balanced diet, which will maintain or improve your overall health and combat heart disease.

Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day - sadly, potatoes don't count BUT if you eat the skins, it's fibre - see below.

Two portions of fish a week - one oily (if you've already had a heart attack or have angina or coronary heart disease, then it is recommended that you have two or three portions of oily fish a week)

White fish is low in calories and provides Vitamins A, D and B along with minerals calcium, iodine and flourine. You should aim to eat it at least once a week. Canned tuna counts as white fish and it's very tasty and versatile.

Choose white meat - chicken - cut back on the red meat - that may be really bad news for those of us who love a fillet steak, but chicken can be served in so many different ways and there are so many varieties of fish, that it's impossible to get bored with a diet that has little red meat in it.

Go for low fat options where you can - fry in polyunsaturate oils - olive oil is great to use - the mediterranean-anti-heart-disease style diet.

Cut down on salt and drink alcohol sensibly.

Eat cereal - it's thought that a high fibre diet helps your body to get rid of the toxins and 'bad' cholesterol quicker - doesn't do so much damage 'lurking' around your intestines and clogging up your arteries. It lessens the risk of heart disease.

The real big difference though, for most people, is in the amount of fish you should be eating - outside the Mediterranean, very few people eat fish on a regular basis.

I'm not going to bore you rigid with great long explanations about cholesterol, fatty acids, high density and low density lipoproteins and their role in heart disease - if you want information about all that, then go to the British Heart Foundation website

My aim here is to briefly outline why you should and how you can, very easily, make a change - by incorporating fish in your diet and helping yourself and your family avoid heart disease.

How can oily fish make a difference to heart disease?

Oily fish provides Omega-3 polyunsaturate fatty acids. These reduce the 'stickiness' of your blood, which makes it less likely to clot and interfere with the rhythms of your heart.

These fatty acids also protect your arteries and reduce the levels of triglycerides - both of these are associated with coronary heart disease.

Your body can't make Omega-3s, so it has to come from your diet.

Oily fish, mackerel, pilchards, fresh tuna (not canned as the oils are destroyed in the canning process) sardines, trout, salmon and herring are high in Omega-3s. Canned oily fish is good - how hard is it to make a canned salmon sandwich or serve canned sardines with a salad or add canned pilchards to your pizza?

Canned mackerel is very tasty on toast - toast your bread - mash the canned mackerel and spread over the toast, arrange sliced tomato over it - season with some black pepper and heat it under the grill - it's making me hungry just writing about it!

Do you see how easy it could be?

Small amounts of Omega-3s are in some nuts and oils - rapeseed, walnut or soya oil, dark green leafy vegetables, some cereals and nuts - walnuts, pecans, peanuts and almonds, soya beans and tofu.

You can of course take fish oil supplements. If you are taking WARFARIN, then please consult your doctor before taking supplements. Omega-3s reduce the stickiness of your blood and you're taking drugs that already thin your blood. Omega-3s in your diet won't hurt, but a supplement may be too much.

How about children?

You owe it to your children to get them used to a healthy choice of eating.

Not to put too fine a point on it, our children are becoming 'couch potatoes' for the most part.

The world doesn't seem as safe as it was, they have games machines, 24 hour television and we don't really want to let them out - they don't roam free like we used to - we take them everywhere in cars - they don't get exercise.

A friend of mine has two children (boys of 10 and 14 when diagnosed) who have high blood pressure - one of the symptoms of heart disease - and are taking medication for it - how scary is that? And whose fault is it? Given the family medical history, it was inevitable - but so young?

If you have a family history of coronary heart disease, then it's important that you start your children right.

Recently, there's been a lot in the press about Omega-3, 6 and 9 and their role in developing brain 'connections' in children.

As a child, I was given cod liver oil every day - as were most of my friends. We hated it and so haven't given it to our children. It looks like we made a big mistake.

Is it just coincidence that dyslexia, ADHD and other similar disorders are becoming more and more common?

I don't think so and I have started my 15 year old son (who goes to a specialist dyslexia school) on a course of fish oils - I wish I'd had the courage to do this earlier - but I didn't - so...

His whole demeanour has begun to improve - and that's given the fact that we're going through the adolescent stage - it really can't be coincidence - the proof is staring me straight in the face.

What about me as an adult?

It's never too late to start to improve your diet - really.

Jim, a friend of mine in his 50s, suffered dreadfully from arthritis and all sorts of other complaints - diabetes, high blood pressure, angina - symptoms of coronary heart disease and the first steps to a heart attack.

I saw him the other day and commented on how well he was looking - moving freely and easily and generally well - he looked years younger - absolutely brilliant.

I asked him if he'd changed his medication.

Do you know what he said - No, I've just tidied up my diet. Eating more fish and vegetables and I've lost weight and feel great - hardly any aches and pains and I'm cutting down on my drugs. He didn't need them, not cutting back because he wanted to, but he didn't need them in the same way.

His health has improved tremendously - his doctor's delighted with him. There was a huge difference in him - and it's just taken 6 months - not a slimming diet, just 'tidied up' his diet. More fish, more vegetables - it's really not hard.

What now?

Like my friend Jim, tidy up your diet - more fish - 5 portions of veg - encourage your children to do the same.

I'm not saying you can never have another burger - they're only about 4 oz (100g) each anyway - the Italian meat portion - but at home, use fish or chicken and vegetables.

There are loads of ideas here for cooking fish - if you're just starting out, then have a look at the Canned Fish section - it's easy to have a salad or sandwich, but there's loads of other ideas.

Have a look round and experiment - your heart will thank you for it - and your children should outlive you - we can virtually wipe out coronary heart disease if we choose to - it's a diet and lifestyle choice for the most part.

Many of us don't need to expose ourselves to the risk of coronary heart disease - we choose to by the way we eat and live.

It's as daft as crossing the road without checking it's clear - for a lot of the time, you won't get hit, but if you do, then it's 'curtains' - we don't take that risk, so why do we risk getting coronary heart disease because of the way we eat?

This article comes from Liz Alderson who runs a UK recipe site called <click here>

The title of the site really speaks for itself but if you would like to find out more about Liz, its creator and editor, then have a look at her page under the Biography section <click here>

Published 28 March 2006

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