Heart Healthy Nutrition Mediterranean Style

MeditBy Susan Brown

” If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” ~ Hippocrates

Those of us searching for a nutritional lifestyle where good taste convenes with good health can stop looking and start eating.  The Mediterranean diet is not a single plan but it is a simple one inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of Europeans from the regions of Greece, Spain, and southern Italy to northern Africa and the Middle East.  It’s not necessary to live along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to embrace this dietary plan and lifestyle.  Healthy eating is only as far away as your local supermarket.  All that’s required is a change of mindset from “diet plan” to a healthy pattern of living and eating. 

The diet relies heavily on simply prepared unprocessed seasonal whole foods, including heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil, protein-rich legumes, fish, whole unrefined grains, nuts, olives, cheese, yogurt, fruits, poultry, limited amounts of red meat, moderate amounts of red wine and lots and lots of vegetables.  The addition of herbs and spices that allow for a reduction of salt and the use of olive oil as opposed to dairy fats contribute to healthy, flavorful and favorable choices.  The combination of these foods provides the micronutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber that work cooperatively to nourish the body and protect against chronic disease. 

Continuing studies and growing research show that this ancient dietary lifestyle leads to a longer lifespan and is a major protection factor against chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and some types of cancer.  Research from the Minneapolis Heart Institute shows that a Mediterranean style diet greatly benefits those with diabetes, including lowering their A1C levels which show how well patients are managing their disease. 

Studies show that this diet is not only beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight but also for a reduction of cardiovascular risk factors including total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure levels, and blood glucose levels.  Extensive studies also link the Mediterranean diet to reduced chances of metabolic syndrome risk factors that contribute to heart disease, diabetes and stroke. 

The Mediterranean philosophy for optimal health includes not only diet but other healthy lifestyle choices as well.  These include leisurely family meals and regular physical activity.  For the Mediterranean people food is more than simply sustenance.  Their dishes are steeped in personal history and cultural traditions.  To incorporate the health benefits associated with traditional Mediterranean diets:

  • Fresh, minimally processed foods should make up the majority of your meals. 
  • Replace butter with extra virgin olive oil.  Use it on salads, for cooking and for dipping. 
  • Snack on small quantities of nuts and seeds instead of cookies and candies. 
  • Have a generous leafy green salad every day.
  • Switch to whole grains including bread, pasta and other grains.  Whole grain must be the first ingredient on the food label.  If it says “enriched whole wheat” it is not whole grain. 
  • Have fish at least twice a week.  This can be broiled, baked or sautéed but not fried. 
  • Reduce red meat consumption and substitute with poultry or vegetarian meals.
  • Have fruit salad for dessert.
  • Add beans and lentils to your meals several times per week. 
  • Limit alcohol to a glass or two of red wine with dinner. 
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables without added sauces.
  • Avoid trans fats, processed foods, sugary sweets and fast foods. 

The flavorful Mediterranean diet with its healthy fats, nutrients and fiber means that you may eat less but you will enjoy your food more.  Savor your meals and your time with family and friends and enjoy the health benefits that these delicious nutritious foods have to offer.  If you close your eyes, you can almost feel the warm sun and smell the salty sea breezes.  Hippocrates would be pleased. 

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