Diet and Coronary Heart Disease

Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition gives you some invaluable advice on keeping heart fit

Beetroot Curry

Women are twice as likely to die of coronary heart disease, the main cause of heart attack, as breast cancer in the UK. We know for many heart disease is preventable, and diet can improve our risk factors.

Interesting research published by the BHF last month regarding COVID showed:

  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) was one of the MOST COMMON pre-existing health condition in people who died with Covid-19.
  • CHD increases the risk of complications from Covid-19 by a third.

For me it’s all about focusing on reducing your risks and we can do that with diet. One of the main risk factors for me is cholesterol and I think this is interesting because you can with the right foods and supplements tackle this condition yourself without the need to go on statins – for those motivated to do so.

  • 66.7% of CHD deaths attributed to poor dietary patterns, 44.5% of which are attributed to high cholesterol
  • Over 50% of the population has high cholesterol levels. Elevated cholesterol levels are the key modifiable risk factor to heart disease.

A recent survey by supplement brand Healthspan also showed that 36% of people have never had their cholesterol checked and 77% of those surveyed do not understand still the different types of cholesterol. Nearly half of those surveyed (2000 men and women) stated they were confused about cholesterol health.

How diet can help to improve the risk factors for heart disease – focus on cholesterol

There are all the usual suspects here in terms of diet such as eating the right foods to maintain healthy body weight alongside cutting back on foods rich in sugar and bad fats.

One of the simplest ways to reduce your risk of disease is to eat your 5-a-day. Only 30% manage to do so and it is a way of increasing your fibre intake, micronutrient intake and intake of antioxidant plant compounds such as polyphenols. Also trying to eat a more plant based approach to eating is beneficial for reducing cholesterol but appreciate many people do enjoy eating meat but suggestion here is small swaps make a big difference so maybe taking meat out of your diet or swapping the type of meat e.g. red to white meat can help make a difference.

Plant-based dietary patterns include a Mediterranean and Nordic diet pattern, the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH), and Portfolio diet, as well as vegetarian- or vegan-type diet patterns. These diets have all been found to lower CVD-related risk factors like blood LDL-C, and observational study evidence supports their role in lowering CVD risk.

Supplements to help reduce cholesterol are both plant sterols and globe artichoke.

Plant Sterols
Plant sterols have a similar chemical structure to animal cholesterol and can block the absorption of cholesterol within the gut. People who obtain the most plant sterols in their diet therefore have the lowest cholesterol levels. A sterol rich diet can lower levels of harmful LDL-cholesterol by up to 15% to significantly reduce the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. The benefits are even greater for people with type 2 diabetes, in whom LDL-cholesterol levels have been lowered by over 26%. A recent analysis of data from 124 studies, in which the average dose of plant sterols as 2.1grams per day, showed that increasing doses from 0.6 to 3.3g/day reduced ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol by 6% to 12% with a clear dose response – the more that was taken, the more LDL-cholesterol was lowered.

Because statins work in a different way to plant sterols, the two can be used together to lower cholesterol levels even further. In fact, adding sterols to statin medication is more effective than doubling the statin dose.

Healthspan Plant Sterols, 30 tablets, 800mg £5.95

Globe Artichoke
The globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is a popular Mediterranean plant whose fleshy flowers are considered a culinary delicacy. The ornate leaves contain several unique substances such as cynarin, cynardoside and scolymoside.

Studies suggest that taking artichoke extract for 6 to 12 weeks can lower total cholesterol levels by between 4.2% and 18.5%. However, more research is needed to confirm these promising findings.

Try Healthspan Globe Artichoke, 120 tablets £10.45.

Not recommend if you have gallstones check with your GP.

Beetroot curry recipes
This wonderfully vibrant beetroot curry dish is a rich source of fibre which can help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

This dish is rich in potassium (beetroot is a good source). Potassium helps your kidneys to get rid of sodium through your urine easing tension in your blood vessels (lowering blood pressure). The NDNS survey shows that 11% of men and 23% of women don’t get enough potassium in their diet.

Beetroot is also rich in nitrates which are converted into nitrite when combined with saliva in the body and help to dilate blood vessels. A large meta-analysis of the research linking beetroot to blood pressure showed that it had a significant effect, but this was limited to beetroot juice and supplements.

Her is Rob’s hearty but healthy curry night to celebrate World Heart Health Day which is at the end of September

Beetroot, tomato & coconut curry

Serves 2 / 180 calories per serving
Cooking time half and hour


  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • & grated
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • A pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 fresh green chilli, finely sliced
  • 5 vine tomatoes, finely diced
  • 4 raw beetroots, peeled and diced
  • 100ml coconut milk
  • A handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Wholemeal flat bread


  1. Set a large saucepan on a high heat and add the coconut oil, then add the onion and cook for 10 minutes until golden. Turn down the heat, add the garlic and ginger, and cook for a further 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the spices, chilli, 100ml water and the tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then add the diced beetroot. Simmer for 20 minutes until tender.
  3. Add the coconut milk, chopped coriander and lemon juice. Stir well, then cook for a further 3 minutes to heat through. Remove from the heat and leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving with quinoa or brown rice.

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