Eating Heart Healthy the Mediterranean Way

Time and again the Mediterranean Diet earns high marks as a way of eating to prevent cardiovascular disease. Most recently, in 2018 the  New England Journal of Medicine published a study which showed that people who ate a Mediterranean diet had a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than people following a low-fat diet.

This eating plan includes lots of plant-based meals with small amounts of animal proteins. The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes whole grains, an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, legumes and flavorful herbs and spices. All these foods are high in fiber and loaded with nutrients.

The diet also includes fish and other seafood, as well as olive oil as the main fat source for cooking. It offers additional heart healthy, monounsaturated fats (found in foods like nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil). This compares to the typical American diet, which is heavier on saturated fats from animal protein. And the Mediterranean diet offers choice when it comes to foods such as sweets and animal proteins such as red meat, cheese, butter and eggs – it suggests eating them in small amounts or not at all.

This diet is typical of countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, Croatia, Greece, France, Spain and Morocco, and a handful of neighboring countries (such as Portugal.) You can check out these cuisines for inspiration. Not only is this eating plan better for your heart but it is chock full of fresh flavorful ingredients and not complicated to cook.

8 Simple Steps for Eating the Mediterranean Way

1. Eat lots of vegetables. From a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes and avocado drizzled with olive oil to stunning salads, garlicky greens, fragrant soups and stews, healthy pizzas, or oven-roasted medleys, vegetables are vitally important to the fresh tastes and delicious flavors of the Med Diet.

2. Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, have smaller amounts – small strips of sirloin in a vegetable sauté, or a dish of pasta garnished with diced prosciutto.  Pasta based on quinoa or beans is a good alternative for those of us who are gluten sensitive.

3.  If you aren’t sensitive to dairy, enjoy small amounts. Yogurt and kefir are good sources of probiotics if the label says “live and active cultures”.   You might find that cheeses created from goat or sheep’s milk are better tolerated if you can’t tolerate cow’s milk.

4. Eat seafood two to three times a week. Fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, trout and sardines are rich in omega-3 heart healthy fats, and shellfish including mussels, oysters, and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.

5. Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week. Build meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables, and heighten the flavor with fragrant herbs and spices. Down the road, try two nights per week.

6. Use good fats. Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, coconut, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados.

7. Switch to whole grains. Whole grains are naturally rich in many important nutrients; their fuller, nuttier taste and extra fiber keep you satisfied.  If you are sensitive to gluten stick with gluten free whole grains, including brown, black or red rice, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet and buckwheat. If you tolerate gluten, traditional Mediterranean grains like bulgur, barley, and farro are delicious and add variety.

8. For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Choose from a wide range of delicious fresh fruits. Expand your horizons by choosing fresh figs, pomegranates, and kiwi to add variety to your diet. Instead of daily ice cream or cookies, save sweets for a special treat or celebration.

Celebrate the month of February, National Heart Month, by sending your heart some love and incorporating some of these healthy changes into your lifestyle.