M.E. I eat dust.

I mean I don’t obviously, can you imagine how bad that would be? It might help the immune system for a bit, but after a while I can imagine it wouldn’t be pretty. Despite that, it is a rather good explanation of the nutritional value of what I used to eat most of the time.

Diet and understanding food was something that I never took an interest in. It was something that I just didn’t understand. And it never bothered me that I didn’t understand it. Meals, particularly breakfast and lunch (dinner if you are in the north) were a little like sleep, an inconvenience that got in the way of so many things.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like food. There is almost nothing better than a wonderful meal in a great location, shared with people that I love. I adore the experience and the time to chat and be with those that I cherish. But it was always about the experience and the people, it was never about the benefit that the food would bring and it was certainly never about breakfast and lunch. Blimey, what were those two time wasters about?

Towards the end of last year a new boss joined our business to lead a relatively middle aged team of mixed fitness colleagues. When I say ‘mixed fitness’ I really mean four really fit people and me and a friend who most definitely weren’t. Understandably he wanted to do a team building exercise. He suggested the Three Peaks, I countered with dinner in a nice restaurant in central London, which I thought was a damn fine idea. And still do. We ‘compromised’ on the Yorkshire Three Peaks which we did in the middle of winter. I’m still recovering, whilst also reviewing the definition of ‘compromise’.

I’ve written before that previously my idea of a balanced meal was having Aloo Gobi with my Indian takeaway. I had no concept of the various food groups. Remember you are talking about a guy that didn’t know what his blood pressure was or indeed that there was something called cholesterol, let alone what it did, so there was absolutely no hope for me when it came to nutritional essentials like carbohydrates and proteins. No hope at all. The world was dealing with a nutritional numbskull. A healthy eating halfwit.

Like with so many things, I’ve found that having a heart attack changes your view on life, your perspective. It changes what you think and believe to be important. Well it does if you want to stay alive. If you don’t then crack on and keep living the way that you were, I mean that worked out so well. Right?

So it probably won’t come as a great shock that things have changed. Quite a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t started to wear cheese cloth and sandals and to hug trees. I haven’t become vegetarian, not that there is anything wrong with being vegetarian or tree hugging for that matter. I mean those guys talk a lot of sense as far as I can see now. Aside from Quorn. Never trust anyone who eats Quorn. That’s what my mum used to say. She didn’t, but it sort of feels as if it should be one of life’s great unwritten guiding principles that should be passed on from generation to generation.

But I have started to try and understand food. I have started to take an interest in what I eat and more importantly what I shouldn’t eat.

In doing that I have been really fortunate that we have a friend who is a nutritional therapist. Helen (other nutritional therapists are available) has really helped me on my food journey. And trust me, she has had her work cut out.

So now I understand about starchy carbohydrates and how I need to reduce those and have no more than one at each meal. And how non starchy carbohydrates are my friend. Goodbye potatoes, carrots and swede. Hello asparagus, peppers and tomatoes. Where have you been all of my life? I know that I need to eat non starchy carbohydrate veg in abundance and have two portions of fruit a day.

I’m also all over protein, gone are my ‘blue’ steaks to be replaced with chicken and fish and a late entry in the healthy eating chart is plain natural bio yoghurt. I mean who even knew that was a thing? Sprinkle that with some berries and nuts and honestly I promise you there is a breakfast with your name on it to die for. Not the best turn of phrase to use I grant you given the subject matter, but hopefully you get my point.

Diet can also help directly with managing some of the causes of a heart attack – high blood pressure and cholesterol. Remember I wrote about the superhero cholesterol, HDL, the one that goes around with its pants on the outside? Well, as with all great superhero stories there is an evil arch nemesis and in HDL’s case it is LDL. That bad boy contributes to artery clogging atherosclerosis and in true superhero story fashion you need to keep well out of its way. You can do that by cutting out foods that boost LDL and increasing the foods that reduce LDL. Foods that lower LDL are oats, barley and other whole grains, beans (there are loads of them), aubergine (eggplant for our North American and antipodean cousins – because it really looks like an egg right?) and okra. Nuts, vegetable oils and apples, grapes, strawberries and citrus fruits also help in lowering LDL as does soy and fatty fish.

So you can see why I’m increasingly of the opinion that the veggie brigade may be onto something, as a diet that has a high concentrations of foods which lower LDL also has the added bonus of reducing blood pressure and helping the arteries stay flexible and responsive. And all of that is really good news if you’ve had a heart attack or would rather not go through all of the rigmarole of having one.

All of this makes hospital food an interesting dichotomy. They have to balance mass catering at an economical rate with producing healthy food that will add to the well-being of their ‘guests’. Royal Oldham Hospital, where I was admitted, are still trying to balance that dichotomy, as I am sure many other hospitals are. Our menus would have made the LDL bad guy cackle with glee and maybe even do one of those evil celebratory dances that was the staple of Jack Nicholson’s ‘Joker’. We saw few vegetables in 9 days and a standard component of their menu choices were microwaved curry ready meals, battered fish and chips and pies. Boy do they love a pie at the Royal Oldham Hospital. And not just any old pie, but a cheese pie or a meat pie, which when offered was always followed up by the phrase ‘meat, non-specific’ as if that sudden revelation would somehow help with the choice of what was the least unhealthy option to go for.

After all, we were only in the Coronary Care Unit, so what did we care about being specific about the meat contents of a pie? I mean, we’d only all just had heart attacks.

But before you go rushing out to fill your cupboards with lentils and beans and your fridge with artichokes and broccoli, whilst throwing out your potatoes and red meat with wild abandon. Remember, you can transition your food gradually. You don’t have to go all ‘Big Bang’, you can change what you eat over a period of time. Every little helps as the T.V. advert proclaims. Your body and your heart will thank you and you need never worry about how specific the meat is in any pie ever again. And I promise, that there is absolutely no cheese cloth or tree hugging required.