Spotlight on… heart disease

Coronary heart disease is the single biggest killer in the UK today. While some risk factors are non-modifiable, there are many lifestyle choices you can make that can help to keep your heart healthy. Nutritionist Jo Lewin explores the effect different foods have on heart health and suggests recipes to help you on your way…

A red heart-shaped bowl with a knife and fork

We are repeatedly told that eating a balanced diet can improve our health, both now and in the future. Diet plays an important role in the prevention of coronary heart disease. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help keep blood pressure within the normal range.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease or cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes all diseases of the heart and circulation including coronary heart disease (angina and heart attack) heart failure and stroke. CHD and stroke may be caused by the process of atherosclerosis, which happens when the arteries (that supply the heart and brain with oxygen-rich blood) become narrowed by a gradual build up of fatty material within their walls. In time, the arteries may become so narrow that they cannot deliver enough oxygenated blood to the heart muscle when it needs it. The pain or discomfort that this can cause is called angina. A heart attack can cause permanent damage and happens when a narrowed coronary artery becomes blocked by a blood clot, so oxygenated blood cannot reach the heart. A stroke happens when a blood clot blocks an artery that carries blood to the brain or when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain – starving brain cells of oxygenated blood.

What causes heart disease?

There are certain things about you and your lifestyle that can increase your risk. Risk factors that you can do something about include:

Risk factors that you can’t control include:

  • Family history of cardiovascular disease
  • Your ethnic background
  • Your age – the older you are, the more at risk you are of developing cardiovascular disease
  • Your sex – research shows that men are more likely to develop CHD at an earlier age than women

Food for a healthy heart

Get your five-a-day

A brightly coloured rainbow tuna salad

Eating a diet rich in a range of fruits and vegetables can help to lower the risk of heart disease. Fruit and vegetables are full of vitaminsminerals, fibre and other nutrients, all of which may play a role in helping to reduce our risk of coronary heart disease in different ways. Fresh, frozen, chilled, canned or dried fruit and vegetables along with beans, pulses and 100%, unsweetened juice (not from concentrate) all count. Aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day.

Recipe suggestions – get on your way to five-a-day:
Tuna rainbow salad
Shredded green salad
Red lentil & squash dahl

Fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and potassium, a mineral that may help to control blood pressure and regulate your heartbeat. Fruit, green leafy vegetables and root veg are also rich in folate, which is essential for the formation of blood cells and helps control the level of a compound called homocysteine in the blood. There is growing evidence that people with high levels of homocysteine may have a higher risk of CHD.


The message regarding this macronutrient is clear. Keep saturated fat within Reference Intakes (RI) or guideline daily amounts and focus on heart-friendly fats. Heart-friendly fats include the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds (and their oils) and oily fish. Cut down on pastries, crisps and biscuits and eat more fruit and vegetables.

Saturated fat is frequently vilified as it is linked to cardiovascular disease. Red meat, butter, cheese, burgers and sausages, are high in saturated fat, as are ghee, coconut and palm oils. A diet high in saturated fat can increase blood fats including triglycerides as well as increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. However, recent studies are now suggesting that the saturated fats in certain foods such as those in dairy products including cheese, do not appear to be as harmful as once thought. This may be because other nutrients in dairy, like calcium, may modify the effects on blood fats such as triglycerides.

Recipe suggestions – fill up on healthy, unsaturated fats:
Avocado salad
Broccoli lemon chicken with cashews
The health benefits of nuts

Oily fish

A super healthy salmon salad dish with couscous

Aim to eat two portions of fish a week, at least one of which should be oily. Oily fish provides the richest source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats that can help lower blood triglyceride levels. Eating oily fish regularly can help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  Choose oily fish such as herring, mackerel, pilchards, sardines, salmon and trout.

Recipe suggestions – heart-healthy fish suppers:
Tangy trout
Super healthy salmon salad
Grilled mackerel with soy, lime & ginger

If you don’t like oily fish, there are some vegetarian sources of omega-3 fats that you can include in your diet. These include flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, rapeseed and walnuts. The type of omega-3 fats in these foods is a less potent form than you find in oily fish, so you will need to eat them regularly.


Fibre can also help reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed into your bloodstream. Try to include, porridge oats, beans, pulses, lentils, nuts, fruits and vegetables. They are all high in soluble fibre, which can help lower cholesterol. A high fibre diet also helps fill you up, making you less likely to snack on fattening foods.

Recipe suggestions – high-fibre favourites:
Vegetable & bean chilli
Courgette, pea & pesto soup
Apple & blueberry bircher


Asparagus soldiers with a soft boiled egg

Try to reduce the amount of salt you eat as regularly eating too much is linked to raised blood pressure. On average, people in the UK are eating more salt than they need. It is recommended that adults have no more than 6 grams of salt a day. That is about one teaspoonful.  Don’t add salt to your food at the table and try to use herbs, garlic, spices or lemon juice to add flavour.

Salt is hidden in foods such as packet/canned products, instant noodles, soups, ketchups, sauces and salty savoury snacks, as well as the everyday foods we eat like bread and breakfast cereals, so it’s important to use nutritional information on the front or back of packs to make low salt choices. Many everyday foods such as bread and cereals contain a lot of salt too.

Recipe suggestions – slash the salt in all your meals:
Low-salt breakfast recipes
Low-salt lunches
Low-salt dinner ideas
Processed foods

Often high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, processed foods can pose a quandry when trying to eat healthily. Try cooking from scratch, using basic, fresh and if possible, seasonal ingredients. Also check food labels.


It is important to stick to recommended limits for alcohol – 14 units a week. Avoid binge drinking and if you do over indulge, avoid alcohol for the following 48 hours.  Alcohol is also high in calories and even a small amount can increase your appetite and so can be linked to weight gain. For more information on healthy drinking habits, visit

For more information visit…

The British Heart Foundation
The Stroke Association
Diabetes UK

More ways to keep your heart healthy…

The best heart-healthy recipes
What to eat for a healthy heart
Top 10 tips for a healthy heart
Heart-healthy portions
More health and nutrition tips

This article was last reviewed on 27th September 2017 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.



Spotlight on… diabetic diets

A healthy, balanced diet is key to keeping your blood sugar levels in check and your diabetes under control…

A woman taking a blood sugar reading

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a lifelong condition caused by a failure of the blood sugar regulation mechanism in the body. This is controlled by a hormone called insulin. Diabetes results when the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin or cells of the body become resistant to insulin so blood sugar levels are not controlled as they should be. Without the proper function of insulin, sugar cannot enter muscle or fat cells, causing serious secondary complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, neuropathy and other complications.

How many types of diabetes are there?

Recent research has suggested that diabetes could be seen as five separate diseases, with the potential for treatment to be tailored to each of the different forms. The study was published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology and looked at 14,775 Scandinavian patients. However, while experts saw the results as promising, they cautioned that further research would be necessary before changes could be made to treatment.

The NHS still classifies diabetes in two types.

Type 1 diabetes

Insulin dependent, less common and usually develops before the age of 30.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. The exact cause is unknown but some believe that it is an autoimmune response in which the body attacks its own pancreatic cells. People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin for life.

Type 2 diabetes

Non-insulin dependent, used to be most common in later life but is becoming increasingly more prevalent in younger generation largely due to an increase in obesity.

In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin, but either it is not producing enough or the body does not respond to it properly. The most common cause of type 2 diabetes is obesity. In many cases, Type 2 diabetes can be avoided through eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking regular exercise and often can be controlled in the same way if diagnosed. However, some cases will require medication and your doctor should be the one to determine whether this is necessary.

Recent research has reported interesting evidence to support the reversal of type 2 diabetes. Research funded by Diabetes UK and performed by a team at Newcastle University reported that type 2 diabetes can be reversed by an extremely low-calorie diet (600 kcals per day).

This diet is extreme and Diabetes UK strongly recommends that such a drastic diet is only undertaken under professional medical supervision. People with diabetes who want to lose weight should consult their GP before undertaking any new eating plan.

…a note on gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects women during pregnancy, when some women have slightly higher than normal levels of glucose in their blood and their body cannot produce enough insulin to transport it all into the cells.

Read more from the NHS on gestational diabetes.

A pregnant woman next to a bowl of salad


Symptoms of diabetes can include tiredness, thirst, frequent urination and skin infections. A full list of symptoms can be found at Diabetes must always be controlled under the management of a doctor. For further advice and information see:

Health implications

People with diabetes of either Type 1 or 2 have a higher chance of developing a range of health conditions including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulation problems, nerve damage and damage to the kidneys and eyes. If you are overweight then losing this excess weight healthily and steadily can have a very positive effect on blood sugar levels and can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. It’s also particularly important to build up a good exercise routine as this will help the body maintain good blood sugar levels.

Food choices for diabetics

Dietary modification is fundamental to the successful management of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, though making sensible choices will mean you can continue to enjoy a wide range of foods. It’s imperative that weight is kept within the normal range. The dietary guidelines are very similar to those recommended for a healthy lifestyle: eat less sugar and fat, include more fibre-rich starchy foods and more fruit and vegetables with moderate amounts of meat, fish, milk and dairy. Choosing the right foods can make a big difference and eating regularly helps to ensure blood sugar levels do not fluctuate too much.

A magnifying glass and a calculator next to food nutrition labels

Foods to eat

– Starchy carbohydrates provide energy and help maintain and control blood glucose levels so should factor in every meal, though portion sizes and carb intake should be discussed with a dietitian to ensure you are eating to your individual needs. Look for wholemeal or wholegrain breads, high fibre breakfast cereals, wholemeal pasta and brown rice.

– Fibre can slow the rate at which the starch and sugar in foods enter the bloodstream. It can also help manage cholesterol levels as part of a balanced diet. This kind of soluble fibre is found in oats, pulses, fruit and vegetables.

– Whether you are taking insulin or not, stick to low GI foods (see below for suggestions).

– Magnesium, chromium, zinc and vitamin B3 all help to stabilise blood sugar. Eat plenty of green vegetables, whole grains, dairy foods, brewer’s yeast, seafood and pulses to ensure adequate amounts of these micronutrients.

– Maintain your hydration levels with water, herbal teas etc. but avoid squash and sugary drinks.

Foods to avoid

– Diabetes is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease so the same heart friendly healthy eating principles apply. See our Spotlight on heart disease article.

– If you decide to drink alcohol, avoid drinking more than the recommended amount, and never drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Men and women are advised not to reguarly drink more than 14 units a week. Depending on the amount you drink, alcohol can cause either high or low blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia). Drinking alcohol may also affect your ability to carry out insulin treatment or blood glucose monitoring, so always be careful not to drink too much.

– Minimise refined carbohydrates and enjoy low GI foods instead.

Moderate your intake of the following:

  • Over-ripe bananas
  • Fruit yogurts and desserts high in sugar
  • Fruit juices
  • Dried figs & dates
  • White bread, baguettes and bagels
  • Cream crackers & white rice cakes
  • Iced cakes & pastries
  • Scones, crumpets and waffles
  • Sweet pies
  • Fruit canned in syrup
  • Breakfast cereals containing sugar
  • Baked & mashed potatoes and chips
  • White rice
  • Corn & rice pasta
  • Pizza
  • Popcorn
  • High sugar jams & jellies
  • Crisps and other potato & corn snacks
  • Fruit drinks containing added sugar
  • Fizzy drinks containing sugar
  • Sweets & chocolate bars
  • Thickened soups
  • Table sugar
  • Ice cream containing glucose syrup or high levels of other sugars

Three cans of fizzy drinks next to lots of sugar cubes

Swap these higher GI foods… For these lower GI foods
Refined sugary cereal Oatmeal porridge, All bran or muesli
White bread sandwiches Whole grain/granary bread sandwiches
White rice Basmati rice, wholegrain rice
Biscuits/cookies Small handful of nuts
Sugary fizzy drinks Water
Sweets/sugar candy Raw vegetable sticks with cheese or low-GI fruit
Milk chocolate bar Plain dark chocolate (70% or more cocoa solids)
Jam or marmalade on toast Avocado or nut butter on toast
Curry with rice Curry with chickpeas or lentils
Rice cakes Oatcakes
Pretzels Walnuts

Recipe suggestions

Simple salads to keep those blood sugar levels in check:

Mexican bean salad
Chickpea & roasted pepper salad
Salmon & soya bean salad

Use beans and pulses in chillis and stews and serve with brown rice:

Spicy meatballs with chilli black beans
Lighter cassoulet

Managing your weight can help control Type 2 diabetes. Check out some of our favourite low-fat recipes which don’t compromise on taste:

Zesty haddock with crushed potatoes & peas
Superhealthy Singapore noodles

For further advice or information regarding the diagnosis or management of diabetes please consult your doctor.

This article was last reviewed on 27th September 2017 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

By Jo Lewin – Associate nutritionist

A Serbian flight attendant who survived a plane crash from 33,000 feet in the sky afterward asked to return to her job

Featured image
Photo: clipperarctic CC BY-SA 2.0

Italian master fantasist Dino Buzzati in 1966 wrote about the Ragazza Che Precipita or “The Falling Girl,” a story about Marta and her great descent from the rooftop of a gigantic skyscraper.

Buzzati masterfully used Zeno’s mathematical paradox in his narrative to slow down time as if it were not passing at all for the little girl, forcing her to contemplate her life. Many say that when people are in a state of emergency and faced with grave danger, time moves very slowly for them as well. In truth, the feeling is just an illusion and our brains are simply working faster on such occasions.

That being said, who knows how fast was it going for Vesna Vulovic in 1972 and what dreams and goals she felt she would miss as she was descending, not from a tall skyscraper, but while stuck within an airplane that burst into flames 33,000 feet up and falling ablaze, quickly accelerating towards the inevitable crash that was getting closer and closer with every passing second.

Was she thinking about all the things she would never have a chance to have? Was she thinking about her parents, about her loved ones? About everything she was about to lose. Of kids perhaps? She was 22.

All memory of the plane crash stayed forever suppressed as fragments tucked away in a far corner of her brain–a brain that luckily survived intact after her skull was completely shattered along with both of her legs, two vertebrae bones, her whole pelvis, and several ribs. She was smashed, shattered, and broken all over, yet she survived and miraculously recovered. She had no memory of what went wrong or what happened on the way down. Nor of what she was doing the whole time. Remarkably, she asked to be reinstated in her old position as a flight attendant.

Vulovic was working on board the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 aircraft, Flight 367 for JAT Yugoslav Airlines, that exploded mid-air and split into two over Czechoslovakia. She was not even supposed to be on the plane. She had had a day off but was mixed up with another flight attendant with the same name and was called by mistake. An hour into the flight, as they were headed from Stockholm to Belgrade, a bomb went off in the cargo hold. Twenty-seven of the 28 passengers and crew members on-board died–either in the initial explosion, sucked out of the jet plane into subfreezing temperatures on the way down, or killed when they hit the snow near the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany, in the small village of Srbská Kamenice.

Roughly 250 people lived in the village that frosty day of January 6, 1972. One of them heard the helpless women screaming for help in agony. His name was Bruno Honke and he found her nearly dead with her legs visible in the plane wreckage. She was losing a lot of blood, but a rescue team arrived quickly and took her to a hospital.

“The first thing I remember is seeing my parents in the hospital. I was talking to them and asking them why they were with me,” she said to Green Light Limited, a London based security training firm who approached her for an interview in 2002, three decades after her devastating crash.

“When I saw a newspaper and read what had happened, I nearly died from the shock,” she said in the New York Times in 2008. An investigation concluded that when the bomb went off and detached the cockpit from the rest of the plane, she found herself trapped in her seat by the food cart that miraculously kept her stuck in place the whole time.

 She was in a coma for a couple of weeks after the incident but fortunately for her, the snow was thick and the plane crashed in the trees of a forested hillside that probably softened the blow enough to spare her life.

Though she was paralyzed from the waist down at first, within months she made a full recovery and went on to live a normal life (with a limp though), for the next 40 years, or until December 23, 2016, when a neighbor found her dead in her apartment in Belgrade.

“I was broken and the doctors put me together again. Nobody ever expected me to live this long,” she confessed in the same interview for the New York Times.

And nobody did indeed expect her to survive the injuries. As nobody ever imagined that, right after her recovery, she would ask her employer to resume working as a flight attendant. However, JAT Yugoslav Airlines believed that putting her back up in the air could bring bad press and risk terrifying the passengers who would be with her on the same plane and would recognize her. “They didn’t want me because they didn’t want so much publicity about the accident,” she said for Green Light.

Instead, they gave her an office job, and Vesna Vulovic, who continued to travel by air, never really was seen as a threat by passengers. On the contrary. “People always want to sit next to me on the plane,” she said. After all, she was a real hero in her country and was recognized as “the woman who cheated death” throughout south-east Europe. So in a way perhaps they saw her as a lucky charm on their flights.

As of what might have happened, it is still unclear to this day. One theory states that a bomb was placed in the luggage compartment right below the cockpit during their stop-over in Copenhagen, and another one stipulates that the plane had some problems and was looking for a safe landing in Czechoslovakia but got really low, really fast–and close to a nuclear weapons storage facility and was shot down by fighter jets. However, black boxes were never recovered, no one was arrested, and nothing was ever proven.

For what is worth, Vulovic, who unintentionally holds the record for surviving the highest free fall without a parachute, and was credited in the Guinness Book of Records of 1985, made sure to live a life worth living and make every second count.

After the devastating accident, she used all her popularity and public persona to fight against injustice and the dictatorial governance in her home country, led by President Slobodan Milosevich, who later stood trial in Hague accused of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, and was labeled as the “Butcher of the Balkans.”

 Martin Chalakoski

Dyslexia link to eye spots confusing brain, say scientists

Dyslexia link to eye spots confusing brain, say scientists

DyslexiaImage copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARYImage caption People with dyslexia have difficulty learning to read, write or spell

French scientists say they may have found a potential cause of dyslexia which could be treatable, hidden in tiny cells in the human eye.

In a small study they found that most dyslexics had dominant round spots in both eyes – rather than in just one – leading to blurring and…

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Dyslexia link to eye spots confusing brain, say scientists

DyslexiaImage copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image caption People with dyslexia have difficulty learning to read, write or spell

French scientists say they may have found a potential cause of dyslexia which could be treatable, hidden in tiny cells in the human eye.

In a small study they found that most dyslexics had dominant round spots in both eyes – rather than in just one – leading to blurring and confusion.

UK experts said the research was “very exciting” and highlighted the link between vision and dyslexia.

But they said not all dyslexics were likely to have the same problem.

People with dyslexia have difficulties learning to read, spell or write despite normal intelligence.

Often letters appear to move around and get in the wrong order and dyslexic people can have problems distinguishing left from right.

Human beings have a dominant eye in the same way that people have a dominant left or right hand.

Shape of spots

In the University of Rennes study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists looked into the eyes of 30 non-dyslexics and 30 dyslexics.

They discovered differences in the shape of spots deep in the eye where red, green and blue cones – responsible for colour – are located.

In non-dyslexics, they found that the blue cone-free spot in one eye was round and in the other eye it was oblong or unevenly shaped, making the round one more dominant.

But in dyslexic people, both eyes had the same round-shaped spot, which meant neither eye was dominant.

This would result in the brain being confused by two slightly different images from the eyes.

Researchers Guy Ropars and Albert le Floch said this lack of asymmetry “might be the biological and anatomical basis of reading and spelling disabilities”.

They added: “For dyslexic students, their two eyes are equivalent and their brain has to successively rely on the two slightly different versions of a given visual scene.”

No single cause

Prof John Stein, dyslexia expert and emeritus professor in neuroscience at the University of Oxford, said having a dominant spot in one eye meant there were better connections between the two sides of the brain and therefore clearer vision.

He said the study was “really interesting” because it stressed the importance of eye dominance in reading.

But he said the research gave no indication of why these differences occurred in some people’s eyes.

He said the French test appeared to be more objective than current tests, but was unlikely to explain everyone’s dyslexia.

Dyslexia is usually an inherited condition which affects 10% of the population, but environmental factors are also thought to play a role.

“No one problem is necessary to get dyslexia and no one problem is behind it,” Prof Stein said.18 October 2017

 From the section Health 

Conjoined twins survive gruelling journey to separation

Conjoined twins survive gruelling journey to separation

After surgery, the twins were flown back to VangaImage copyrightJACKLYN REIERSON, MAFImage caption The family lives in a remote village in western Democratic Republic of Congo, in Africa

Conjoined twins born in a remote village in the Democratic Republic of Congo have survived a 15-hour journey on the back of a motorbike to be separated.

They were then flown to the capital, Kinshasa, where they were operated on by a team of volunteer surgeons.

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