The rich flavors and health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet are hard to ignore. The heart-healthy diet is based on eating traditional foods (and drinks) of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including Crete and other parts of Greece and Southern Italy. The diet focuses on consuming healthy fats, seafood, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables. Ingredients emphasize fresh and real foods, which help manage blood pressure, lipids and blood sugar while promoting longevity.1 In addition to cardiovascular benefits, research suggests a delayed need for sugar-lowering drug therapy in overweight patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes.2
The century-old tradition of the Mediterranean Diet has proven to contribute to good health. Try incorporating these dietary patterns into your own home to promote an overall sense of well being while combating heart disease and chronic illness.
- Seafood. Eat seafood 2-4 times a week. Try salmon, halibut, tuna steak, snapper, mackerel, bass, sardines, tilapia, canned light white tuna, shrimp and rainbow trout. The American Heart Association recommends eating oily fish twice weekly to reduce heart disease risk by 40%. The omega 3 oils in fish are heart-healthy.
- Berries, Cherries, Red Grapes. Eat these daily. Choose fresh, frozen and dried and eat as part of meals, snacks and desserts. Add to shakes, smoothies, stews, salads. Use as toppings for yogurt, pancakes, oatmeal and cereals. The deep red pigment (identifying anthocyanins, flavonoids and polyphenols) are powerful anti-oxidants that reduce cholesterol oxidation (plaque) and inflammation in arteries, preventing the stiffening of artery walls.
- Tomatoes. Eat daily fresh or cooked in sauces, stews, spaghetti or pizza sauce, soups, salsa and tomato juice. Include other red-pigmented foods too, such as carrots, cantaloupe, oranges, red onion, red bell pepper, red cabbage, red-veined lettuce, beets, red apple, red or purple grapes, eggplant, cherries, berries and sweet potatoes. The flavonoids in these foods fight heart disease.
- Greens. Eat daily: spinach, asparagus, cabbage, greens, Brussels sprouts, lettuce and broccoli. These foods are packed with heart-healthy vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients, such as the B Vitamins, potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, calcium and Vitamins A,C, E, K that lower blood pressure and keep arteries elastic.
- Beans. Include ½ cup daily or 4 cups a week of beans to lower lipids. Eat all types and colors, served hot or cold. Tasty options include hummus, lentil soup, black bean soup, limas, black beans, black-eyed peas, navy beans, garbanzos, pintos, edamame and red beans. Try adding beans to dips and salads and snack on baby carrots and red bell pepper strips with hummus.
- Wholegrains with Fiber. Strive for 3 servings daily. Enjoy oatmeal topped with raisins, almonds or walnuts; 100% wholewheat bread, cereal, crackers; kashi, barley, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, popcorn and wheat berries. Aim for 48 grams of wholegrains daily.
- Lean Quality Protein. Include lean beef and pork cuts in your diet. Eat poultry without skin, low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), seafood and soy. These nutrient-rich foods protect your body and your heart.
- Olive Oil, Nuts, Avocado. These healthy oils lower cholesterol. Use in salads and cooking. Try up to 6 teaspoons of oils daily or 2 tablespoons of nuts, such as almonds, walnuts or pistachios.
For more ideas on heart-healthy eating, check out The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution: Step Up to the Plate (2009). My guidebook of tips makes healthy eating fun and more manageable. Connect with me online at @GeorgiaKostas and Facebook/Georgia Kostas Nutrition and visit: http://www.georgiakostas.com.
1 2011 American Society for Nutrition. “The Impact of a Mediterranean Diet and Healthy Lifestyle on Premature Mortality in Men and Women.” (Piet A van den Brandt) http://www.ajcn.org
2 2009 Annals of Internal Medicine. “Effects of a Mediterranean Style Diet on the Need for Antihyperglycemic Drug Theray in Patients with Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes.” (Esposito) http://www.annals.org
This nutrition information does not address individual health conditions. Please consult with your physician or registered dietitian to meet specific health and dietary needs.