Monthly Archives: April 2016

Avocado, Smoked Salmon and Poached Egg on Sourdough

Avocado, Smoked Salmon and Poached Egg From The Healthy Heart

I woke up in the mood for brunch. It was the weekend after all. I had been sent a photo of a breakfast dish made by my niece and had it in mind for days. I happened to have the ingredients in the fridge. So it was a joy to plate it up in my kitchen and a fine meal it was too.

In addition to tasting really good, this dish is packed with good fats and the feelgood factor while lowering cholesterol.

Serve with a large pot of tea.

For 4 people:

2 ripe avocados, mashed
4 slices of smoked salmon
4 large eggs
4 thick slices of sourdough bread
Black Pepper

Begin by preparing the avocado. Mash lightly – add some freshly ground black pepper. I don’t think it calls for salt as the smoked salmon is salty but add some if you want to.

Cut four thick slices of sourdough and toast. Spread with the avocado and lay the smoked salmon on top.

Poach the eggs – I poach for a minute or two – remove with a slotted spoon and then drain on kitchen paper.

Pop an egg on top of each toast, avo and smoked salmon combo. Add a grinding of black pepper and eat.

A Lot More Fuss About Fats – 20 April 2016

When I first started writing about reducing cholesterol over three years ago, I realised that there was a lot to learn. What I didn’t know at the time was quite how difficult it would be to know what guidelines to follow. At first it seemed straight forward – reduce saturated fats, essentially – and replace with good, unsaturated fats such as olive oil, oily fish nuts, avocados and low fat dairy products. As regular readers of my blog know, I set about this project with zeal and, along with regular exercise, my cholesterol level dropped within three months.

Since those early and naïve days, I have discovered that the relationship between a raised cholesterol level and mortality is far less clear than I first understood. Many people who suffer heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels.  If this is so, then constantly trying to reduce cholesterol levels in order to extend our longevity might not be the simple solution I supposed it to be.

Over the past few years the notion of saturated fats being the devil incarnate has also come under scrutiny. Sugar is now in the spotlight as the number one killer and sad to say, low fat products are packed with the white stuff.

This week a very interesting article was published in the New York Times which had me scratching my head. It is an important addition to the ever increasingly muddled picture of what to believe, who to believe and what to do to preserve our cardiovascular health.

Entitled, A Study on Fats That Doesn’t Fit the Story Line, Aaron E. Carroll, professor of paediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, reports on an article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on that controversial topic of how our diet affects our cardiovascular health.

The article in the NY Times points out that questions were being raised about saturated fats as far back as the late 1960s and 1970s. Guess what happened to this data? It wasn’t published. The study was called The Minnesota Coronary Experiment and was a well –designed study that collected data on the cholesterol levels of over 2 300 participants. They were put on a diet that reduced their saturated fat intake and increased their unsaturated fat intake. Over the course of the study their overall cholesterol levels dropped. No surprises here – many of us have found this to be the case when we replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

However, the study showed that there was no decreased risk of death from this reduced cholesterol level. In fact, it showed an increased mortality especially in the group of participants who were 65 years and older. Most surprisingly, perhaps, was the finding that those whose cholesterol level had reduced the most, were also at the greatest risk of dying from any cause – ie not just from cardiovascular disease.

Since this time studies have proven and disproved these findings. The question is – why was the Minnesota study not published? Why was the Sydney Diet Heart Study (1966 – 1973) not published until three years ago? Could it be because it too found that eating a diet higher in unsaturated fats resulted in more deaths from heart disease? What might have happened to the health advice given over the past decades if all this research had been published? Where would the low fat food industry be then? Would we have grown fat on the sugars we have been eating as part of our low fat diets?

If this is sounding like a conspiracy, perhaps there has been one. The NY Times article suggests that perhaps these studies were not published because they contradicted the accepted wisdom of the time that saturated fats were the big bad wolf.

As Professor Carroll concludes “the state of nutrition research in general is shockingly flawed. It’s hard enough to debate the data we can see. Knowing there’s probably data out there that people haven’t shared makes everything much, much harder.”

So there we have the conundrum. No-one knows what to believe, which studies to follow, whose advice to take and what is being hidden from the public. Most of all, I don’t know whether to put butter on my toast and a steak in the pan or to just continue trying to get my cholesterol down. Who knows if that is more likely to extend or curtail life expectancy?

Next time: The Sugar Conspiracy

In the meantime you may like to read my fully saturated fat article published today in The Boston Globe: https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2016/04/18/what-like-eat-heston-blumenthal-hinds-head/8Z8utjEVDdnTECx2cYbXCN/story.html

Blood orange and Ruby Chard Salad

Blood Orange and Ruby Chard Salad from The Healthy Heart

I look forward to the blood orange season each year. They are one of the few fruits that are truly seasonal these days. Eating strawberries in winter is all very well if you don’t mind air miles or summer fruit when it is snowing. But there is something authentic about a fruit that only comes once a year and for a short season at that.

Having eaten a lot of blood oranges as nature intended, without adornment, I had a go at a little light cooking. First I cut the oranges into slices and then dry fried them in a nonstick pan until they took on a little bit of colour.

Wanting to keep the bright colours on the plate I added a bunchof ruby chard leaves and their colourful stalks.

I used a Lancashire cheese purely because I had a chunk in the fridge that needed using up. I could otherwise have used feta. I liked the Lancashire though because it had a pleasantly chalky texture which contrasted well with the juicy oranges and the chard.  As we are trying to lower cholesterol, keep a light hand on the cheese.The fresh mint added extra freshness to the salad

I ate this for lunch with a slice of wholemeal bread on the side.

For 4 people:

2 blood oranges, skins left on, sliced into rounds, then rounds cut in half

1 large bunch of ruby chard, washed and shaken dry

250g Lancashire cheese or Feta, sliced

A couple of teaspoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil

A handful of mint leaves, shredded

Dry fry the oranges in a nonstick pan until they take on a bit of colour. Set aside.

Steam  the ruby chard until they are just wilted.

Slice the cheese. Slice the mint leaves finely into shreds.

Lay out the oranges, chard and cheese on a platter. Scatter over the mint.

Finish off with a trickle of good quality extra-virgin olive oil and a grinding of black pepper.

Seasonal Reflections – 6 April 2016

I am supposed to be sitting at my computer writing a blog post on lowering cholesterol. But the truth is that I am simply passing the time until the evening episode of The Archers is broadcast.  Archers fans will understand that nothing much else matters this week. Of course it does. It is just that sometimes the real world is too filled with real pain. So we turn hungrily to the made up world which, ironically, can also reduce us to shaking with fear in our own kitchens. If non-Archers fans do not know what I am on about, Radio 4 has a particularly disturbing story line about domestic abuse right now that is gripping middle England.

But back to the real world. I was greatly moved last week –as were many others around the globe – by the announcement that the great Zaha Hadid had died. One of the world’s greatest architects, whose buildings I adore, she suffered a heart attack while in hospital in Miami where she was being treated for bronchitis. Now I know nothing about Ms Hadid’s health history but it struck me that even while in a hospital her heart attack turned out to be fatal. You would think that having a heart attack in a hospital would give one a better than normal chance of survival.

What disturbed me most about her passing away was not only that the world will not see any more magnificent buildings with her instantly recognizable style, but that so much talent is cut short by cardiovascular disease. Considering how much is known now about preventing this disease, it seems especially cruel.

Yet, how many of us really change our lifestyles to lower our own risks? I count myself as part of the group of people who know the right things to do but find it so hard to keep up. At the moment I feel in the doldrums health wise. I am struggling to shake off a nasty virus that is doing the rounds and leaves people feeling exhausted. But in truth it has been some time since I have attended in a meaningful way to lowering cholesterol and taking general care. My weight is up, my eating is pretty much free for all and my exercise is at a three year low. What I do keep up is a daily bowl of oats for breakfast and almonds as a snack. The only downside of this cholesterol lowering behaviour is that my helpings are too generous by far – probably enough for two. Each morning I remind myself of this but as I tip the oats and milk into my pot I resolve to start cutting back the next day. And the day after.

The positive news is that Spring seems to be here – on a very short walk this week, I marveled at the buds bursting out on trees in the woods. Which makes me think that nature knows what to do to keep replenishing life. If only we could keep in tune with it.