Listen to your heart’ is normally something you find written in the pages of romantic fiction, but it’s also excellent medical advice. As the poets point out, a good heart is essential for a long and happy life.
This small, fist-sized organ does an extraordinary job of pushing five litres of blood through the 60,000 miles of blood vessels in your body 70 times a minute, 100,000 times a day — three billion times during your lifetime. And we need to look after it.
The trouble for many people is that their heart is ageing faster than it should: heart disease is the biggest killer of men in the UK, while in women it is number two, after dementia.
At 63 I have already lost a couple of close male friends to heart failure, as well as my father.
Listen to your heart’ is normally something you find written in the pages of romantic fiction, but it’s also excellent medical advice. As the poets point out, a good heart is essential for a long and happy life
Most heart-related deaths occur as a result of coronary heart disease —furred-up or blocked arteries — which occurs when fatty plaques develop in the arteries.
This reduces blood flow, causing angina (or chest pain) on exertion, or breathlessness. Over time, fragments of the plaques can tear off, blocking an artery and causing a heart attack or stroke.
What is your heart age?
To find out what shape your heart is in, I recommend doing an internet search for the NHS Check Your Heart Age calculator (nhs.uk).
When I put my data into the calculator, it said I have a heart age of 63, which is my real age.
I was hoping for better, but one of the things that puts my heart age up is a family history of heart disease.
I was curious to see what would have happened if I hadn’t lost 20 lb (9 kg) and reversed my type 2 diabetes: when I put that data into the calculator, my heart age was 74 years old!
The effects can be devastating. Even if you survive a heart attack, it’s often followed by heart failure, where damage to the heart muscle means it can’t pump as efficiently, so even something as simple as climbing stairs or walking from one room to another can become difficult.
So how can you reduce the chance of this happening? Staying active is vital — the heart is, after all, a muscle and needs to be worked just as your biceps do.
But just as important is to stop smoking, check your blood pressure and, if your waist is expanding, lose weight.
Being overweight means the heart has to work that much harder to push blood around the body — as well as putting strain on the heart, this raises blood pressure.
And it’s not just the fat you can see that causes problems — so, too, does the visceral fat, the internal fat that forms around the organs such as the heart and liver.
This not only raises your blood pressure and your levels of damaging blood fats, but it increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
The good news is you can turn this around, fast. Recent research has shown that one of the best ways to lose weight, and protect your heart, is through a rapid weight-loss diet such as my Fast 800 Easy, which the Mail has been publishing in this unique Eat To Beat Disease series.
Just what a difference it can make was highlighted by a recent study of 278 overweight or obese patients, published by researchers from Oxford University in the BMJ in 2018.
This study found that the patients who followed an 800-calorie diet for eight weeks not only lost 23lb (10.7kg), and kept it off for a year.
Their blood pressure, blood sugar levels and blood fats also improved significantly compared with patients in the control group who received standard care. In another study, from 2017, researchers at the University of Surrey put two groups of overweight people on either a standard slow-and-steady diet or the 5:2 approach.
This approach involves eating healthily for five days a week and cutting back for two days a week.
Not only did the 5:2 dieters lose more weight, more quickly, but they saw bigger falls in blood pressure (down by 9 per compared to 3 per cent in the other group).
When the researchers gave the dieters a fatty meal it was the 5:2ers who were able to clear the fat from their blood fastest. This study was small — involving only 27 people — but the results were still pretty impressive.
With the Fast 800 Easy approach, we recommend you start with rapid weight loss, 800 calories a day, every day, for several weeks, followed by my 5:2 plan, where you stick to 800 calories a day, but only twice a week, until you reach your goals, when you move on to the longer term maintenance phase.
Avoid grazing late at night
The trouble with snacking — particularly late at night — is that it reduces fat burning.
If you must snack on a fasting day, eat a small portion of non-starchy veg, such as some sliced cucumber, broccoli or celery. Or try a few nuts (one portion is the amount that will sit in the palm of your hand) or a sliver of cheese.
There are Fast 800 shakes that can replace a meal if you don’t have time to make one of these recipes on a fasting day.
Check out thefast800.com for further details.
To help you, all this week we have been publishing delicious and easy-to-prepare Fast 800 recipes developed by my wife, Clare, who is a GP with years of experience helping patients tackle their health problems through diet — and more recently, with a low-carb, low-calorie approach.
The recipes are quick and easy to prepare and many are based on store cupboard favourites, cutting down on the number of trips you have to make to the supermarket (and also making them inexpensive).
And while today’s recipes are geared in particular to heart health, they will help anyone who wants to lose weight and improve their health.
The basic elements of the diet (both the rapid weight-loss phase and the longer term maintenance phase) are based on the Mediterranean diet — the benefits of which were well demonstrated in one of most important nutrition studies ever carried out: the Predimed study published in 2013.
Here Spanish researchers recruited more than 7,400 overweight, middle-aged men and women and randomly allocated them to either a Mediterranean or a low-fat diet.
Both groups were encouraged to eat lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and legumes (such as beans, lentils and peas). They were discouraged from consuming sugary drinks, cakes, sweets or pastries and from eating too much processed meat such as bacon or salami.
Those allocated to the Mediterranean diet were asked to eat plenty of eggs, nuts and oily fish and use lots of olive oil, and encouraged to eat some dark chocolate and enjoy the occasional glass of wine with their evening meal.
In contrast, the low-fat diet group were told to eat low-fat dairy products and plenty of starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice.
The volunteers were also asked to fill in food diaries and keep a check on their health via medical examinations, questionnaires and blood and urine samples.
All volunteers were given an ‘M score’, according to how closely they stuck to the Mediterranean diet.
Within four years there were such dramatic differences between the two groups that the trial was stopped two years early.
Compared to the people on the low-fat diet, those allocated to the Mediterranean diet had a 30 per cent reduced risk of heart attack or stroke, as well as a 58 per cent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, a 51 per cent reduced risk of breast cancer and a reduced risk of cognitive decline
Clare and I are convinced that once you try this way of eating you won’t want to go back. This isn’t just a diet — it’s a sustainable eating approach with sensational recipes that will help make you slimmer, fitter and reduce your risk of disease!
Check whether you are suitable for the rapid weight-loss part of my plan at thefast800.com.
UNDER 300 CALORIES: Nutty porridge
Oats are rich in soluble fibre and as part of a Mediterranean diet may help to reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
Serves: 6; Prep: 10 mins; Cook: 6 mins
PER SERVING: 294 cals
PROTEIN: 11.5 g
CARBS: 23 g
FAT: 17 g
FIBRE: 3 g
- 100 g plain mixed nuts, roughly chopped
- 100 g rolled jumbo oats
- 50 g mixed seeds
- 50 g mixed dried fruit
- 100 ml full-fat milk, to serve
1. Tip the nuts, oats, seeds and dried fruit into a large bowl. Mix well together, then transfer to a jar or other lidded air-tight container.
2. For one serving of porridge, take 50 g of the mix and place in a non-stick saucepan. Add the milk and 100 ml water, place over a medium heat and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring, until thick and creamy. Alternatively, put the porridge, water and milk in a large microwaveable bowl and cook on high for 3 minutes. Stir and cook for a further 30 to 60 seconds, or until thick and creamy.
3. Spoon into a bowl (if cooking in a pan) and leave to stand for 2 to 3 minutes to thicken.
Cook’s tip: For a creamier porridge, add 1tsp chia seeds to each serving as you add it to the pan. Add an extra 2tbsp water and cook as directed. With the extra chia, each serving will contain 324cals and 12g protein.
Miso soup with mushrooms and prawns
UNDER 100 CALORIES: Miso soup with mushrooms and prawns
Studies have found foods with high amounts of omega 3 (such as prawns) are associated with reduced risk of heart attacks and lower blood pressure.
Almost instant and low-calorie, this is a fast-day life-saver. It was one of the recipes I demonstrated in our Channel 4 series Lose A Stone In 21 Days.
Miso paste has a deliciously sweet, salty, slightly tangy flavour. The prawns add a good boost of protein and omega 3, along with other nutrients, including selenium (which is important for the immune system).
You can add a handful of spinach leaves or cooked greens as well. Simply add at the same time as the prawns. Miso soup kept Michael going on his early 5:2 fast days.
Serves: 1; Prep: 5 mins; Cook: 5 mins
PER SERVING: 69 cals
PROTEIN: 12 g
CARBS: 3.5 g
FAT: 0.5 g
FIBRE: 1.5 g
- ½ pak choi, leaves separated and washed
- 3 level tsp miso paste (around 15 g)
- 1 closed cup mushroom, finely sliced
- 50 g large cooked and peeled prawns, thawed if frozen
- Small pinch crushed dried chilli flakes (optional)
- Small handful roughly chopped fresh coriander leaves, to serve (optional)
1. Place the pak choi in a small saucepan with 250 ml water.
2. Stir in the miso paste, add the sliced mushroom and bring to a simmer. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the pak choi is beginning to soften.
3. Add the prawns and cook for a further minute, or until the prawns are hot.
4. Remove from the heat, stir in the chilli and coriander, if using, and ladle into a deep bowl or large mug to serve.
UNDER 200 CALORIES: Lemon chicken
A quick dish proving a Mediterranean diet doesn’t just limit you to dishes from that region. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be one of the most effective in reducing the risk of heart disease.
Serves: 2; Prep: 10 mins; Cook: 5 mins
PER SERVING: 187cals
- 1 tsp cornflour
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- Finely grated zest and juice 1⁄2 small lemon
- 2 tsp coconut or rapeseed oil
- 1 skinless chicken breast fillet (around 150g), cut into 1.5–2cm slices
- 1 pepper, any colour, deseeded and sliced
- 1 medium carrot (around 80g), trimmed and thinly sliced
- 100g broccoli, cut into small florets
- 150ml chicken stock (made with 1⁄2 a stock cube)
- 4 spring onions, trimmed and thickly sliced
1. Mix the cornflour with the soy sauce and lemon juice in a small bowl.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok over a high heat, add the chicken, pepper, carrot and broccoli and stir-fry for 2–3 minutes, or until the chicken is lightly browned and the vegetables are beginning to soften.
3. Pour the lemon and soy mixture into the pan, add the chicken stock and spring onions and bring to a simmer.
Cook for 2 minutes, or until the sauce is slightly thickened and the chicken is cooked through, stirring regularly.
4. Sprinkle the chicken with grated lemon zest and serve it up with cauli-rice.
UNDER 200 CALORIES: Baba ganoush
Aubergine is a great source of dietary fibre which helps to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the body.
Serves: 4; Prep: 10 mins; Cook: 35 mins
PER SERVING: 141 cals
PROTEIN: 3.5 g
CARBS: 3.2 g
FAT: 11.6 g
FIBRE: 4.8 g
- 2 medium aubergines (each about 275 g)
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and each cut into 4 slices
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp tahini (about 35 g)
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice or ½ tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp ground cumin
1. Preheat the oven to 220 c/fan 200 c/gas mark 7.
2. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways and score the flesh deeply with a knife, without cutting all the way through to the skin. Place on a baking tray, cut side up.
3. Divide the garlic slices between the aubergine halves, pressing them deeply into the flesh, making sure they don’t stick out or they may burn. Brush the aubergines generously with 1 tbsp of the oil and season well. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and soft.
4. Remove from the oven and leave for 5 to 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Scoop the flesh and garlic from two of the aubergine halves into a food processor and discard the skin.
Add the remaining olive oil, tahini, lemon juice or vinegar and cumin. Blitz until smooth.
5. Add the remaining aubergine flesh to the blender and blitz until just combined with the purée, but with plenty of texture remaining, or for longer if you prefer a smoother finish. Serve drizzled with a little extra olive oil, if you like, but don’t forget to add 27 cals for each teaspoon.
UNDER 100 CALORIES: Tzatziki
Serves: 6; Prep: 5 mins
PER SERVING: 61 cals
PROTEIN: 3 g
CARBS: 2.5 g
FAT: 4.5 g
FIBRE: 0 g
- ½ large cucumber, coarsely grated
- 250ml full-fat live Greek yoghurt
- 1 heaped tbsp finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- ¼ tsp sumac or paprika (optional)
1. Place the cucumber in a large bowl with the yoghurt, mint and garlic. Season with a little salt and ground black pepper and mix thoroughly. Cover and chill for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle, if you have time.
2. Serve sprinkled with the sumac or paprika, if using.
Avocado and feta dip
UNDER 100 CALORIES: Avocado and feta dip
This dip makes a delicious light lunch. It is best eaten on the day it is made.
Serves: 4; Prep time: 5 mins
PER SERVING: 95 cals
PROTEIN: 3.5 g
CARBS: 1 g
FAT: 8.5 g
FIBRE: 1 g
- 1 medium avocado (about 150 g), peeled and stoned
- 1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- 75 g feta
- Juice ¼ lemon
- Pinch crushed dried chilli flakes, to serve (optional)
1. Mash the avocado thoroughly in a bowl. Add the garlic, feta and lemon juice, to taste, and season with a little salt and lots of ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly.
2. Transfer to a clean bowl and serve sprinkled with chilli flakes, if using, and vegetable crudités for dipping.
Low-carb Portobello ‘pizzas’
UNDER 300 CALORIES: Low-carb Portobello ‘pizzas’
This has all the flavour of a traditional pizza, but only a fraction of the carbs and calories.
Serves: 2; Prep: 10 mins; Cook: 10 mins
PER SERVING: 287 cals
PROTEIN: 15.5 g
CARBS: 6 g
FAT: 22 g
FIBRE: 3 g
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 tsp dried oregano, plus some fresh oregano leaves to serve (optional)
- 4 Portobello or large flat mushrooms (each around 90 g)
- 3 to 4 tbsp tomato purée
- 6 to 8 cherry tomatoes, sliced
- 100 g ready-grated mozzarella
Preheat the oven to 200c/fan 180c/gas 6 and lightly grease a baking tray.
Mix the olive oil, garlic and oregano in a small bowl.
Place the mushrooms on the tray, stalk side up, and spread each one thickly with the tomato puree.
Top with the sliced tomatoes and drizzle with the olive oil mixture. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and season with a little salt and plenty of ground black pepper.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and has started to brown.
Serve sprinkled with fresh oregano leaves, if using and green vegetables or a large salad.
Time to find out if you’re a carb-aholic
Although the recipes in The Fast 800 programme are relatively low in carbohydrates, I’m not saying that all carbs are bad. Along with fats and proteins, carbs play an important role in our diet.
The problem occurs when you eat too much of the wrong sort, the easily digestible carbs.
These are the sort that are rapidly absorbed by your body and include the sugars found in chocolate, biscuits, cakes, fizzy drinks and many highly processed foods.
They cause your blood sugars to spike and result in the over-production of the hormone insulin, which leads to blood sugar crashes and a craving for more quick-fix energy, ie more carb-heavy foods.
Although the recipes in The Fast 800 programme are relatively low in carbohydrates, I’m not saying that all carbs are bad. Along with fats and proteins, carbs play an important role in our diet. The problem occurs when you eat too much of the wrong sort, the easily digestible carbs
And that, of course, leads to weight gain. Starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes, and some sugary fruits (such as grapes and raisins), can also cause blood sugar spikes, particularly if you are sensitive to them (this seems to be partly down to genetics, partly down to your gut bacteria — or microbiome).
This doesn’t mean that they are to be avoided, but try to go ‘brown’, and certainly during the rapid weight-loss phase of the diet you shouldn’t pile your plate with them.
Think of them more as a side dish and substitute with non-starchy greens such as courgettes, broccoli or cauliflower.
Once you are well into your weight-loss journey, we would encourage you to add in more complex, unrefined carbs such as lentils and wholegrain rice.
To test your dependency on ‘bad’ carbs, Clare and I have come up with this questionnaire. Add up the number of ‘Yes’ answers and see which group you are in below. She scores two on it, while I score eight.
- Do you get an instant reward or ‘hit’ as soon as you eat sweet, starchy or refined foods? YES / NO
- Do you often drink sweetened or flavoured drinks (including fruit juice and artificially sweetened drinks)? YES / NO
- Do you often snack or graze between meals? YES / NO
- Do you eat four or more portions of fruit a day? YES / NO
- Do you often eat to make yourself feel better, for example when you are disappointed, under pressure or have had an argument? YES / NO
- Are you eating large portions? YES / NO
- Do you often feel unsatisfied, even soon after finishing a meal? YES / NO
- Does the sight, smell or thought of food often stimulate you to eat, even if you have just finished a meal or are not hungry? YES / NO
- Do you often lose control and eat much more than you meant to, particularly when eating snacks, junk food or sweets? (May involve eating until uncomfortable, feeling sick or actually being sick.) YES / NO
- Do you often justify eating by thinking ‘just this time’, or ‘later I will eat better/start the diet/burn it off’? YES / NO
- Is food much on your mind? Do you often find yourself thinking about it during the day? YES / NO
- Do you sometimes eat in secret? YES / NO
- Do you sometimes snack very late or in the night? YES / NO
- Do you often feel guilty or ashamed about what you are eating, yet find yourself eating it again soon after? YES / NO
- Do you often crave sugary foods or feel shaky, irritable, anxious or sweaty without them? YES / NO
The Fast 800 Easy by Dr Clare Bailey and Justine Pattison, published by Short Books, £16.99. Copyright © 2021 Dr Clare Bailey and Justine Pattison. To order a copy for £14.44 go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £15. Promotional price valid until 24/01/2021.
WHAT RESULTS SAY
0–3: You can take it or leave it when it comes to eating sweet treats and have a healthy attitude towards food.
4–7: You like your sugary carbs, but are probably managing to keep it in check. This may require a certain amount of self-control. At times you probably find this a bit of a challenge. The problem with sugary carbs is that, for many people, the more you eat, the more you want. It is a slippery slope.
8–10: Moderately addicted. You are eating considerably more than you know is good for you and probably feel bad about it.
You are likely to be feeling hungry much of the time, preoccupied by food and at times struggling to control your cravings as a result of a degree of insulin resistance. You are probably at risk of diabetes if you don’t have it already. It is worth getting regular health checks.
MORE THAN 10: Unhealthily dependent. Avoiding unhealthy carbs is a challenge for you.
You are likely to be constantly hungry, preoccupied by food and feeling bad about your eating.
You are highly likely to have insulin resistance (where your cells are increasingly resistant to the effect of insulin — the hormone that mops up excess sugar from your blood) which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Given the amount of carbs you eat and your unhealthy relationship to them, you’re at significant risk of diabetes if you don’t have it already. It is definitely worth getting a health check.