A Mediterranean Diet: Heart Benefits
"Diets" generally have poor connotations - the words 'bland' and 'unfulfilling' often come to mind for most. However, a Mediterranean diet offers vibrant colors and bold flavor while still providing health benefits. A heart-healthy Mediterranean diet can keep your heart pumping and taste buds excited!
"Diets" generally have poor connotations – "bland" and "unfilling" just to name a couple. However, the Mediterranean diet offers vibrancy and flavor while still providing health benefits. A heart-healthy Mediterranean diet can keep your heart pumping and taste buds excited!
Mediterranean Diet Foods
The Mediterranean diet focuses on whole foods, mostly from plant-based crops. The diet further describes a range of consumption of certain types of foods.
• Whole Grains
Skip out on refined products (think white flours, pastas and breads) and go for whole grains, rich in fiber and B vitamins – whole wheat flour and products, barley, oats, quinoa, and couscous.
• Fruits and Veggies
Go for color! Grapes, pomegranates, olives, tomatoes, and berries are excellent fruit choices. Reduce the intake of starchy vegetables (corn and potatoes) and increase non-starchy veggies – bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, spinach, and kale.
Halibut, tuna, anchovy, tuna, and herring are prime examples of fish loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Shellfish, such as shrimp and scallops, also provide healthy fats along with modest amounts of protein.
Legumes are generally a superior meat alternative, offering substantial protein along with fiber. Beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts are all examples of a legume.
• Nuts and Seeds
Not a big fish eater? That's okay! Nuts and seeds also provide omega-3 fatty acids. All nuts and seeds are welcomed, including almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds.
Olive and canola oils largely replaces butter in a Mediterranean diet, as they are loaded with monounsaturated fats.
• Fresh Herbs
To reduce salt intake, fresh herbs are used in place to flavor foods. Nutritious herbs such as parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano offers bold flavors to dishes.
Lean, white meat proteins can be included in modest amounts including chicken and turkey. Choose grilled or baked over deep-fried pieces.
• Dairy Products
Divvying completely away from dairy is unnecessary, as they provide protein and calcium. Consume milk, yogurt, and cheese in modest amounts.
• Red Wine
If desiring to consume red wine, do so in moderation. Recommendations include up to two alcohol servings for men and one for women. A serving size of wine is five ounces.
• Red Meats
Though high in saturated fats, red meats are rich in protein and iron. Keep portions and servings in check when consuming products such as beef, pork, and lamb.
Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health
After dissecting the components of the Mediterranean diet, well-researched benefits are not too surprising. Specifically, heart healthy benefits can be contributed to the following components:
Not all fats are created the same. High amounts of saturated and trans fats (especially) have shown to increase the risk of heart disease. Choosing unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) over saturated and trans fat products can reduce heart disease risk. Additionally, the omega-3 fatty acids (a type of polyunsaturated fat) found in most fish, nuts and seeds are infamous for their role in heart health.
Whole grains, fruits, and veggies are significant sources of fiber, a plant component indigested in the body. Soluble fiber, found in oats, acts like a sponge and can essentially "soak up" cholesterol. The bound cholesterol is excreted from the body and may contribute to lowered cholesterol levels. Ultimately, maintained cholesterol and lipid values within normal limits reduces the risk of heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes.
Antioxidants naturally occur in plant-based foods as vitamins, minerals, and other components. When toxic compounds are introduced into the body – from diet, the environment, etc. – cellular damage can arise and contribute to diseases, including heart disease. Additionally, the oxidation of cholesterol may result to increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol. Antioxidant-containing whole grains, fruits, and veggies are shown to fight against cellular damage and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Along with a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, physical activity is encouraged daily. Regular exercise improves blood flood and promotes cardiovascular health. Being active also contributes to weight loss or weight maintenance, and sustaining a healthy body weight reduces the risk of heart disease.