The Mediterranean Diet: Heart Healthy and Delicious

By Michael Russell, recent Arizona State University Nutrition Communications Student

Becoming a nutrition communications student has introduced me to several wonderful diets and reasons to start eating healthier.  As a part of one particular class we had to choose a diet, live by it for a week, and report on our success.  As I thumbed through the diet choices one stuck out at me because of its emphasis on heart health. That diet was the Mediterranean Diet.

Red Salmon Salad with fresh garden tomatoes, basil, parsley, lettuce, onion, pears on white plate

Our hearts play a vital role in supplying our essential organs with oxygen rich blood; it is our engine.  If you put the wrong fuel into your car engine then over time it will gunk up and stop working, well our hearts will do the same thing if we continue to put unhealthy food into our bodies.  The Mediterranean Diet helps us choose healthy proteins, fats, and oils to keep our heart running at its optimum level.

 

The Mediterranean Diet

 

This diet originates from the foods eaten by those bordering the Mediterranean Sea, so areas like Southern Italy, Greece and Crete.  In our minds we think of these countries eating foods like pizza, gyros, falafel, and drinking several bottles of wine.  That theory is simply not true and is due to an American lifestyle of adding in calories to pump up meals to fill our growing nation, according to the experts.

 

The Mediterranean Diet is based on limiting red meats and sweets and eating a lot of fish, fresh vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.  They choose to eat basic foods instead of processed foods and include daily exercise and sharing meals with loved ones.  Yes, they do drink red wine but one to two glasses, not a bottle and choose red wine over hard liquor.  Let us take a look at some of the health benefits the Mediterranean Diet is aligned to:

 

  • Protects against type 2 diabetes. Because of its use of fresh vegetables, it introduces a greats source of fiber which can help to prevent huge swings in blood sugar.
  • Helps prevent heart disease and stroke. As I mentioned before with the diet’s choice to eat whole grain as opposed to refined breads, homegrown and basic foods instead of processed foods, and drinking a glass or two of red wine versus hard liquor, this diet shows links to prevent heart disease and stroke.
  • Keeps you agile in your later years. As we age our muscles become weaker due to inactivity and poor diet.  The Mediterranean Diet has shown to increase muscle strength and other signs of frailty in seniors by 70 percent.
  • Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s has been linked to an increase in cholesterol and blood sugar levels as well has poor blood vessel health.  All these factors are improved by adopting the Mediterranean Diet.
  • Helps to halve the risk of Parkinson’s disease. This diet is high in antioxidants, because of this reason our body has a lesser chance of going through the process of oxidative stress which practically cuts the chance of Parkinson’s in half, according to those who have researched this diet.

 

Because of these great health benefits and also that a diet like this helps to protect the body from developing a host of cancers our chance of a long and enjoyable life is greatly improved.

 

How to Follow the Mediterranean Diet:

 

I have already mentioned some diet choices the Mediterranean Diet follows but I want to go in depth on the choices we should make in order to live according to this particular diet:

 

  • Vegetables are key. By now, we should know the health benefits of eating vegetables.  They provide an excellent source of fiber which in important to healthy digestive tract as well as lower our blood sugar levels.  Try eating a plate of sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, lightly salted with some feta cheese or top a pizza with an assortment of roasted vegetables such as eggplant, peppers, garlic, and shallot as opposed to pepperoni and sausage.  Salad, soups and stews are also a great way to get more vegetables into your diet.
  • Balance your meat intake. We now have more than 29 cuts of lean meat in beef. Portion size is key. You don’t need to overeat on your red meats. Plus, a variety of meats like lamb, pork and chicken should all be considered.
  • The most important meal of the day. Breakfast is essential to starting your day off right and instead of eating two or three doughnuts followed by a gallon of coffee try whole grains and fruits. Eating these types of foods at breakfast will keep you feeling full for hours and treat your body right.
  • Cast a line. Try to eat fish at least twice a week.  Fish like tuna, salmon, herring and black cod are all rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, the good fat.  For those of you who love shellfish, oysters, mussels, and clams can help with heart and brain health.  Choose a whole grain pasta and top it with mussels cooked in a white or red sauce with plenty of garlic and a crunchy whole grain loaf of bread for dipping.
  • Eat a vegetarian meal once a week. Once a week build a meal around beans, vegetables, and whole grains.  At a minimum try to have an array of vegetables on a regular basis.
  • The right kind of fats. Healthy fats can be found in such options as extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, sunflower seeds, and olives.
  • Enjoy dairy products. Research has shown that full dairy products have been proven to make you feel fuller faster so ingesting natural cheeses and Greek yogurt may lead to less body fat and lower levels of obesity.
  • How about dessert? This may be the true test for some us because having something sweet after dinner is almost a given but instead of eating cake and cookies try a bowl of fresh fruit.  I know this may sound boring but if you couple some dairy with your fresh fruit it could change the way you look at fruit as a dessert.  For instance, try grilling peaches to caramelize their natural sugars, remove the pit and add some vanilla Greek yogurt in the middle.

 

Eating right is a start but the Mediterranean Diet also includes daily exercise and eating with loved ones.  These two lifestyle changes can help to stave off depression and unwanted pounds.  I know I want to live a full and healthy life and the Mediterranean Diet will help me achieve that goal.

 

 

 

REFERENCES

 

  1. Mediterranean Diet 101 | Oldways. (2016). org. Retrieved 9 April 2016, from http://oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/get-started-go-med.
  2. Mediterranean diet for heart health – Mayo Clinic. (2016). org. Retrieved 9 April 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801.
  3. The Mediterranean Diet | The State Times. (2016). com. Retrieved 9 April 2016, from http://thestatetimes.com/2015/04/01/the-mediterranean-diet/.
  4. The Mediterranean Diet: Myths, Facts, and Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet. (2016). org. Retrieved 9 April 2016, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/diet-weight-loss/mediterranean-diet.htm.

 

 

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