Starting Today: You don't have to be teetotal. You don't have to eat muesli. You don’t have to take diet pills like Phen375. The good news for bon viveurs is that the right diet can protect against our biggest killer
Two million people in the United Kingdom suffer from angina, and more than 300,000 have a heart attack each year. Although in the younger age groups, those under 45, the incidence is falling, coronary heart disease remains the single largest cause of death in the country. A heart attack is still the most often quoted reason for premature death.
In Britain, where heart disease is more common than in most Western countries, we have wide regional variations. Scotland and the North of England are notorious blackspots, and the death rate from heart attack is 25 per cent greater in the North than in the South East.
The accusing finger has been pointed at the British diet in general, and the North Country diet, with its lack of fresh vegetables, in particular, as important factors which have made our coronary arteries as choked as the M25 on a Bank Holiday Sunday.
The stereotypical image of an enthusiast of healthy food has done little to spread the message. The health-conscious are still too often seen as lank-haired, pale, flatulent and smug, but it is slowly becoming accepted that it is as possible to eat as healthily, and rather more enjoyably, in the Savoy Grill as it is in the muesli belt of a university city. No longer is it only the food faddists who avoid too much saturated fat, and are conscious of the value of the anti-oxidant vitamins, C, E and beta-carotene.
An important boost has been given to those who want to eat healthily by the acceptance that the Mediterranean diet which is rich in fish, garlic, olive oil and fresh vegetables, and is accompanied by liberal amounts of wine results in no more heart disease than in Britain, and probably much less. One of the first changes in lifestyle which will reduce the risk of a heart attack is to eat less saturated fat, more fish, more vegetables and plenty of fruit.
The emphasis is increasingly against thinking of individual dishes as being good or bad, but reviewing the diet as a whole. This means balancing the entire menu over a period of weeks the occasional treacle pudding, for instance, can be traded off against grilled fish, tomato and peppers.
More emphasis is being laid on what can be eaten without anxiety, rather than on condemning those foods which have to be viewed with caution, and taken only in strict moderation. A diet which includes more chicken, venison, turkey and game and rather less pork, beef and mutton is no great hardship.