Want to reduce your risk of heart disease? Consider the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet has been getting a lot of attention lately. This may be due to the several research studies linking the diet to heart health. Perhaps it is also because the diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating, but allows for simple pleasures like a adding a splash of olive oil to a meal or drinking a glass of red wine. With so many diet plans that are so restrictive it is refreshing to have a diet based on moderation that actually works! Imagine that!
This diet originates from the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. This diet includes fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains. The diet limits unhealthy fats associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
Benefits of the Mediterranean diet
Research indicates that following the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk for heart disease. A meta-analysis using studies that investigated the association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and health outcomes showed that a greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is significantly associated with a reduced risk of overall mortality, heart disease, cancer incidence and mortality, and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that the diet is associated with lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the type of cholesterol that is more likely to contribute to clogged arteries.
Components of the Mediterranean diet
Vegetables and Fruits: Vegetables and fruits are a staple in the Mediterranean region and they are an important component of the diet because they contain so many vital nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E, K and some B vitamins. They are also rich in some minerals and other health promoting nutrients such as antioxidants and phytochemicals. The goal is to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables at each meal. Make sure to have 2-3 servings of fruit daily.
Legumes and Whole Grains: Legumes including beans and lentils as well as whole grains are a healthy form of carbohydrates and fiber. Legumes are also a healthy source of plant based proteins. It is important to remember that a serving is ½ cup of grains or legumes or 1 slice of bread. Aim for 5-8 servings of legumes and/or whole grains per day.
Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are a source of healthy unsaturated fat, fiber, and plant based protein. They are also an important part of the Mediterranean diet. Aim for 1-2 servings per day and keep in mind that 1 serving is ¼ cup or 2 tablespoons of nut butter or seeds. When choosing nuts use caution with any that have added oil, been honey-roasted, candied or heavily salted.
Fish and Lean Protein: Fish is the main protein source in the Mediterranean diet, besides plant based proteins, and should be eaten 2-3 times per week and one serving is 3 ounces. Lean chicken and turkey are included less often with the goal of 1-2 3-ounce portions per week. Eggs are encouraged to be limited to no more than 4-5 per week. Limit sausage, bacon, cold cuts, and other high fat, processed meats.
Yogurt and Dairy: Yogurt and cheese are the predominant dairy source consumed on the Mediterranean diet. Choose 1-3 servings of dairy per day. One serving of cheese is 1 ounce and 1 serving of yogurt or milk is 8 ounces.
Olive oil and other fats: Olive oil is the predominant fat used in the Mediterranean region. Olive oil is used instead of butter in salad dressings, for dipping bread, and cooking. The type of fat in olive oil is called a monounsaturated fat and this type of fat has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease. Other healthy fats that can be used on the Mediterranean diet include avocado, canola oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil. One serving of oil equals one tablespoon and aim to eat 3-6 tablespoons per day. This includes all fat used for cooking, salad dressing, etc. The Mediterranean diet discourages saturated and Trans fats in the diet.
Spices: Traditional dishes of the Mediterranean region are flavored with a variety of herbs and spices and salt is used sparingly.
Enjoying meals with family and friends: The traditional Mediterranean diet lifestyle emphasizes the importance of eating with other people and eating healthfully together. Traditionally the cooking, eating, and cleaning of the meal is done together with family and friends.
Drinking red wine in moderation: Alcohol in moderation has been associated with reduced risk for heart disease in some research studies. The Mediterranean diet includes a moderate amount of wine and this means no more than one 5-ounce serving of wine per day for women and no more than 10-ounces per day for men. If you are unable to refrain from drinking the amount of alcohol recommended above or have a personal history or family history of alcohol abuse, refrain from drinking alcohol of any variety.