Heart Disease, Diet Nutrition and Lifestyle

Please note: This program offers general advice only.?It is not a substitute for personal medical attention. If you think you may have a heart problem, see your doctor.

Coronary heart disease is the No 1 cause of premature death throughout the developed world. Please take it seriously. At the very least, please make sure you have your blood pressure and cholesterol tested regularly.

Heart Disease Made Simple

We need a constant blood supply

Every second, blood travels around our body through a series of pipes called arteries or veins. If it didn?t, none of our organs (e.g. heart, brain, liver, kidneys, eyes) could survive. Why not? Because blood is the body?s transport system. It carries oxygen and other vital chemicals around the body to all the organs and simultaneously collects waste and other toxins for eventual treatment and disposal. So, if one of our arteries/veins becomes blocked, causing a stoppage in the blood flow, our organs stop working and we collapse.

Heart-attacks and strokes

heart-attack occurs when we develop a blockage in one of the arteries supplying blood to our heart. A stroke is the result of a blockage in one of the arteries to our brain. In either case, the story is the same. Lack of blood stops the heart or brain from working so it shuts down and we collapse.

How does an arterial-blockage occur?

It occurs as a result of a combination of things.

(1) Over time, the wall of our artery becomes diseased or ?corroded?.

(2) As our blood passes through this corroded section, it dumps some of the fat which it is carrying, and this fat forms a bulge in the wall of the artery. Result? In the same way that double-parking narrows a road and causes a slow down in the flow of traffic, this fatty bulge narrows the width of the artery and slows down the flow of blood as it passes around it. 

(3) If the blood flow gets too slow, and if tiny bits break off the bulge in the wall ? clogging up the blood even more ? the blood will form a spontaneous clot, completely blocking the artery.


How to reduce the chances of a heart attack

Generally speaking, our chances of getting a heart attack depend upon two separate factors: 

  • Our family history
  • Our lifestyle.

Family history plays an important part, but lifestyle is probably the major culprit. For example, heart disease & stroke accounts for 48 per cent of all Irish deaths, yet only about 0.01 per cent of the population inherits an additional risk of such conditions. In other words, if we wish to reduce the risk of a heart attack, we must improve some of the habits which make up our lifestyle.

The 6 bad habits which we need to change

There are 6 bad habits which together make up the sort of lifestyle that can cause heart disease.

1. We refuse to change
2. We smoke
3. We are too overweight
4. We don?t exercise
5. We let stress get on top of us
6. We don?t eat properly

All these habits are important. I?ll deal with each in turn, however I?ll focus primarily on No 6.

1. We refuse to change!

Every week, something or someone reminds us to look after our health ? especially our heart! Do we listen? No! We just carry on as normal. We carry on smoking, drinking, eating badly and avoiding exercise. Our eating habits are particularly bad. It?s never been easier to eat healthily, but most of us just carry on eating the same old rubbish. This unwillingness to change, is a fundamental cause of most heart-attacks.

My advice: If after reading this page, you realise that some of your habits need changing: then change them! Don?t make the mistake of thinking that a heart-attack is something that only happens to other people. The cemeteries are full of people who held this opinion.

Is it worth taking heart disease seriously? Answer: YES!

  • In the UK heart attacks are estimated to occur once every 45-60 seconds.
  • In Ireland, 33 times more people die of heart disease than in all road accidents put together.
  • In America, an estimated 1,000,000 people will die of heart-related disease in 2002.

About 1 person in 500 inherits an additional susceptibility to heart-attacks and strokes. If you believe that you fall into this category, or if you have a family history of heart disease, then as well as following the advice on this page, I strongly recommend that you visit your doctor for a check-up and a cholesterol test.

2. We smoke

If you smoke a packet of cigarettes a day, you double your risk of a heart-attack. You are also five times as likely to suffer a stroke. Smoking 40 cigarettes a day makes you five times as likely to suffer from a heart-attack. In Britain, 30,000 people die of heart disease annually as a direct result of smoking. Why? Because cigarette smoke contains over 850 chemical components which cause serious damage to the human body. They damage blood vessels, increase fat-levels, encourage blood-clotting and damage the walls of our arteries. [They also cause lung cancer.]

My advice: Ideally, stop smoking altogether. Smoking is a major health risk. If you won?t stop, then at least reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke. In addition, since smoking is so bad for you, you must pay special attention to the rest of this page ? especially the section on diet.

3. We are overweight

Being overweight is usually a sign that you are eating too many high-fat or high-sugar foods. To put it simply, your diet contains too many calories. Result? The excess calories are stored as fat throughout your body. 

However, being 10-15 pounds overweight is not a problem: it?s only when you become 28 pounds (2 stone or more) overweight that you increase your risk of heart disease & strokes.

The Body Mass Index
To determine whether someone is overweight, most experts now use the Body Mass Index. The BMI links weight to height, so the taller you are the heavier you can be. 

My advice: Using the BMI, check how overweight you are for your height. If you are less than 28 pounds (two stone) overweight, you should start to watch your calories. If you are more than 28 pounds overweight, I suggest that you get hold of a sensible diet and lose weight. (Note: Anne Collins Diet is both sensible and kind to hearts.)

4. We don’t exercise enough

Unlike us, our great-grand-parents had no car, washing-machine, dryer or cooker. Result? When they went to church, they walked. When they washed, they did it by hand. When they cooked, they first went for water. In other words, exercise was part of their everyday life. Today, however, we take very little exercise, which is very bad news for our heart. Why? Because if our heart doesn?t get enough exercise, it gets weak and can?t pump blood as efficiently as it should.

However, if we exercise regularly: our heart gets stronger, the level of fat in our bloodstream drops and our arteries stay clear of those dangerous deposits that cause blockages. The moral? Get lots of exercise, preferably in the fresh air!

My advice: The easiest way to start exercising is to start walking. But please take things gradually and go at your own speed! For example, start with a light 15-20 min walk every day. After a while, increase your speed and swing your arms as you move. As your fitness improves, increase the length of your walk to about 40 minutes and include one steep-ish hill. 

If you are too overweight to go walking, then try a few light indoor exercises. Even sitting in a chair clenching and unclenching your fist for 10 minutes a day is better than nothing.

Theoretically, according to the Journal of Advanced Medicine, every mile you walk gives you an extra 21 minutes of life and saves you 30 cents (20p) in medical care!

5. We let stress get on top of us

Stress is bad for our heart in several ways
For example, it automatically increases the clot-ability of our blood. This mechanism was originally designed to help us survive by preventing loss of blood from serious wounds. However in today?s world it merely increases the risk of heart-attack. For example, in the 60 minutes following a very stressful event, our risk of heart-attack can double. Unfortunately, we can?t avoid stress. For example, career pressure, money worries, family problems and personal anxieties are ever-present in most homes. 

However, stress itself is not the problem: it?s how we deal with it that counts.

My advice: Get things into perspective! Remember: the only thing that really counts is good health. Everything else is a luxury which isn?t really worth worrying about. 

Get organised
For example, if you are very busy then make a daily list of things to do. A list helps us to become more efficient. Result? We have more time to relax. 

Take more control over your life
For example, don?t let your employer or your family treat you like a doormat. If they do, tell them to stop. If this doesn?t work, perhaps it?s time to walk away.

Set aside 15-20 minutes every day, to relax
If you don?t have time, make time!
After all, what is more important than your good health?


6. We don’t eat properly

If you want to look after your heart, here are five basic suggestions for improving your diet:

  • Eat lots of fruit and vegetables.

  • Eat less fat ? especially saturated fat.

  • Cut down on sugar.

  • Fill up with lots of solid food.

  • Eat more super-foods!


I recommend that you eat 3-4 daily helpings of vegetables (inc. potatoes) and 3-4 daily portions of fruit. If you smoke, I advise you to eat more: i.e. at least 5 helpings of vegetables plus at least 5 portions of fruit. (Ideally, quit smoking!)

4 ways to eat more fruit
Juice it! Do it by hand or buy a juicer [approx. ?20].
Chop it! It?s easier to eat bite-size pieces than one huge piece. Keep a bowl-full in the fridge and nibble at it! Add it to cereal and make leftovers into fruit salad.
Open it! Open a can of tinned fruit (in juice, not syrup) every day!
Stew it! Enjoy lots of stewed desserts. Add mousse or yogurt for extra taste!

4 ways to eat more vegetables
Make home-made soup! It?s easy and even green vegetables taste delicious!
Cook casseroles! The flavor of the meat makes all the vegetables taste great!
Start stir-frying! Chop vegetables down to size! Use lemon juice, soy sauce & water.
Eat more salad! And remember, salad isn?t just a lettuce-leaf! It can include onions tomatoes, cucumber, sweetcorn, beetroot, chopped carrot and chopped cabbage.


Note: By comparison with meat-eaters, vegetarians suffer 39% fewer cancer deaths and strict vegetarians suffer 75% fewer heart-attacks & strokes.



We cannot survive without fat in our diet. However, most of us make 2 big mistakes. We eat too much fat in total and too much saturated fat in particular. As a result, we greatly increase our chances of developing heart-attacks and strokes.

Use less fat when cooking
Don?t fry food. Instead: grill, roast, bake, poach or boil. If you must fry, use a non-stick frying pan and either dry-fry or add a little water. If you need extra moisture, use lemon juice, soy sauce or stock.

Switch to low-fat alternatives

  • Switch to skimmed milk. It has 15 times less fat than even low-fat milk.

  • Switch to low-fat spread and use only a very thin covering.

  • Switch to low-fat yogurts & mousses.

  • Switch to lower-fat cheese: (Cottage, Philadelphia Light, or Laughing Cow).

  • Switch to fish, chicken and turkey, instead of red meat.

  • Switch to low-fat packet sauces and make up with water, not butter/milk.

  • When buying frozen or pre-cooked foods, check the label and choose low-fat.

Avoid high-fat foods

  • Limit red-meat to twice a week.

  • Whatever meat you serve, remove all visible fat or skin & don?t use fat for gravy.

  • Serve less meat (max. 4oz/100g) and more potatoes, vegetables & beans.

  • Avoid all pastries, all fried food, crisps, chocolate, burgers, rashers, sausages, chops, fatty roasts, ordinary mince, meat-pies, corned beef, pate, salami, mayonnaise, butter, cream and all dairy products not marked ?low-fat?

  • Check the label and choose foods low in saturated or hydrogenated fats.

Oily fish – the exception to the rule!
Oily fish (e.g. mackerel, sardines, herring) is extremely good for hearts! Ideally, eat at least 1oz (30g) per day. If you don?t like oily fish, ask your pharmacist for a good quality fish oil supplement and take as directed.

Don?t add fat to your food
There?s no point eating low-fat food if you drench it in fatty gravy, mayonnaise, butter, or cream. All these additives are full of fat: (e.g. butter and mayonnaise are 80% fat!)

To meals or sandwiches add pickle, low-fat sauce, lemon juice or soy sauce.
To desserts, add yogurt, mousse, jelly or custard made with skimmed milk.



A high sugar diet raises blood pressure, reduces resistance to stress (itself bad for the heart) and raises the risk of diabetes and obesity. It also makes our blood more liable to clot, thus increasing the risk of heart-attacks and strokes.

My advice: Avoid: regular soft drinks, cookies, cakes, candy, sweets and toffees.
Switch to lower-sugar cereals, jelly & preserves, and diet soft drinks. If in doubt, check the label for levels of: sugarglucosesucrose and fructose. Limit your alcohol consumption to 2-3 drinks, per day.

The Effects of Alcohol on Your Heart
Recent research indicates that people who have 2-3 drinks a day have a lower rate of heart disease than people who drink more or less than this. [NB. 1 drink = half-pint of beer, 1 short, or 1 glass of wine.] However, (A) Limit yourself to 2-3 drinks per day. (B) Do not drink on an empty stomach. (C) Above all, avoid drinking binges.


By solid foods, I mean: bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, beans, cereals, oats and pulses. All these wonderful foods are extremely good for you, so eat lots! For example:

  • Eat a good quality muesli, or porridge, for breakfast.

  • Enjoy lots of different breads (best is whole-grain), pastas, noodles and brown rice.

  • Bake potatoes, dry-roast them, make potato salad, make fish-cakes out of them etc.

  • Include a regular helping of beans (baked, red, butter etc.) with your main meal.

  • Make friends with lentils and chick peas ? both now available in cans.

  • Fancy a nibble? Choose bread & jam with a very thin covering of low-fat spread.


There are several super-foods which appear to offer extra protection against the dangers of heart disease. Some have already been mentioned but they are worth repeating.

Oily fish , oat-brangarliconionsraw carrotsfresh vegetablesfresh fruitactive yogurttea.

I strongly recommend that you make these super-foods part of your regular diet.

Putting it all into practice

For a healthy heart, follow these simple steps.

  • First, to find out where you stand, I suggest you visit your local health clinic for a cholesterol test. This is a quick test (usually done by a nurse) to check the level of fat in your blood, and you should have it done at least once every two years.

  • Next, If this page has shown you that your lifestyle needs changing, then change it! Don?t just ignore the situation and hope it will go away: it won?t! So quit smoking, get down to a normal weight, start exercising regularlydon?t take life too seriously and start eating properly.

  • Next, before you start a Healthy-Heart Diet, get organised! For example, in order to eat more fruit and less fat, I strongly advise you to invest in a juicer to make your own fruit juice, and a good non-stick frying pan to help you fry without fat.

  • And make a list of good foods to keep in the house. Remember: the worst mistake you can make is to run out of good things to eat!