If you’re looking for a diet for a healthy heart, the Mediterranean diet could be the one for you. It incorporates the basics of healthy eating with ingredients that are full of flavour if consumed in moderation.
Most healthy diets include fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains. These healthy foods are tried and tested but subtle variations or differences in proportions of foods may make a difference in the risk of heart disease. This week, LetsGetChecked tells you how to optimize your health with the Mediterranean diet.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The traditional Mediterranean diet is known to reduce the risk of heart disease. This is predominantly because of its link with lower levels of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or in other words “the bad cholesterol”.
The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet may have a significantly reduced risk of breast cancer. For these reasons, most scientific organisations encourage healthy adults to adapt this Mediterranean style of eating for prevention of chronic diseases.
The main focus of the Mediterranean diet isn’t on reducing the amount of fats we consume. Rather it focuses on replacing unhealthy fats, such as hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and saturated fats, with healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
“Extra virgin” and “virgin” olive oils are the least processed forms of plant based oils, they also contain a high level of antioxidants which inhibits damage caused by oxidation.
- Ditch The Butter, Use Some Healthy Oil
- Switch Up Your Protein
- Get Your 8 A Day!
- Nutty Snacks
- Fruit For Thought
- A Cheeky Glass of Wine
8 Ways to Follow the Diet
Ditch the Butter, use some Healthy Oil
Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats. Use it as an alternative to hydrogenated oils as your primary fat for cooking and baking.
A high-quality extra-virgin olive oil seasoned with balsamic vinegar is delicious for dipping bread and is a healthier alternative to butter which is rich in the saturated fats associated with increased risk of heart disease.
Switch up your Protein
Switch out most of your red meat for skinless chicken and turkey, fish, beans, nuts and other plants as your protein intake. By removing red meat, you will further lower your intake of saturated fat.
Start with small changes. Aim to eat fish twice a week (as long as it’s not fried). Fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna are especially good choices because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is a type of polyunsaturated fat which is linked to improved heart health.
A good practice to fall into is to think of the meat as a flavouring to supplement a meal. (Maybe use some diced pancetta in a tomato sauce for pasta.)
Get your 8 a Day!
Aim for 3 to 8 servings of vegetables every day. Try to pick out vegetables in a variety of colours to get a broad range of antioxidants and vitamins.
Kick off the day with a spinach and cheddar omelette. Then, enjoy a bowl of warm vegetable soup for lunch. Finally, roast up some carrots and throw together a green salad for dinner.
Large green salads are a great way to include several vegetable servings at once, enjoy one per day with a splash of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Quinoa, cooks up in just 20 minutes. Mix it with some homemade salsa to make it a delicious side dish for weeknight meals.
Barley is another whole grain and is full of fibre, pair it with mushrooms for a steamy, satisfying soup. A hot bowl of oatmeal is perfect for breakfast on a cold winter morning.
Start the switch from refined products to a fully whole-grain diet. Initially, phase in whole-grain products by going half and half with a refined product. (Like half whole-wheat pasta and half white). Eventually, you should almost exclusively be eating whole-grain bread, pasta, and rice.
Instead of snacking on processed foods like crisps, cookies and chocolate bars, snack on healthy alternatives like almonds, walnuts or sunflower seeds. Processed snacks are full of sugars, saturated and trans fats. Other healthy alternatives for snacking on could be calcium rich low-fat cheese or low-fat natural yogurt with fresh fruit.
Fruit for Thought
Fresh fruit is a way to satisfy a sweet tooth. If it helps you to eat more, drizzle slices of pear with honey or sprinkle a little brown sugar on grapefruit.
Keep fresh fruit visible at home and keep a piece or two at work so you have a healthy snack when your stomach starts growling. Lots of supermarkets stock all sorts of exotic fruits, try to pick a new one each week to expand your horizons.
A Cheeky Glass of Wine
Research indicates that those of us who drink moderately are less likely to have heart disease than those who abstain entirely. Alcohol appears to raise “good” HDL cholesterol.
Wine, in particular, “thins” the blood (making it less prone to clotting) and also contains antioxidants that prevent your arteries from taking up LDL cholesterol, a process that can lead to plaque build-up.
The Mediterranean diet typically includes a moderate amount of wine. This means no more one glass of wine daily for women (or men over age 65), and no more than two glasses of wine daily for men under the age 65.
If you’re unable to limit your alcohol intake to the amounts defined above, if you have a personal or family history of alcohol abuse, or if you have heart or liver disease, refrain from drinking wine or any other alcohol.
Enjoy your meal
The Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle than a diet. It encourages us to sit down with friends and family to truly enjoy our food, perhaps with a bottle of wine between four.
Not only will you enjoy your food and your company more, eating slowly allows you to pay more attention to your body. You’re more likely to only eat until you’re satisfied, rather than eating until you’re full.
Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley