Mediterranean Diet: Heart Healthy Benefits

The word “diet” often has a negative connotation and is synonymous with deprivation. Going on a “diet” tends to mean eating  with restrictions and not allowing any “unhealthy” foods. However, the Mediterranean “diet” has no deprivation involved. It is based on making small rather than drastic changes. It is focused more on creating a lifestyle diet that is permanent, not temporary. It focuses on increasing your intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and healthy fats.

Whole Grains

Instead of white breads and refined grains, switch to more whole-grain and wheat products. Switch to whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta. Quinoa, barley & oatmeal are all great choices as well. This increases fiber and essential nutrient consumption.

Bump Up The Fruits & Vegetables

Fresh fruits and nonstarchy vegetables are a main component of this diet. Consume 5-10 servings a day. One serving is ½ cooked or 1 cup raw vegetables.  Salads or roasted veggies are a great choice. Fresh fruit can be eaten anytime as part of a meal or snack.

Switch Up Protein

Skinless chicken and turkey, fish, nuts, and beans are all great protein choices. Swap out most of your red meat for these options. This will lower your saturated fat consumption. If this is difficult for you, make small gradual changes. Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines should be eaten 1-2 times a week. They are rich in omega-3’s, which are linked to improved heart health. Grilled fish is a great option. Try to stay away from fried fish. If you have an urge to consume red meat, do so in moderation. Choose a leaner cut such as sirloin, strip steak, flank steak, or top loin, and limit to a smaller portion size.

More Legumes

Legumes are a source of protein and fiber. Hummus and lentil soup are two popular dishes. Have a serving of legumes (1/2 cup cooked) at least twice a week. Legumes contain no cholesterol, are typically low in fat, and contain many essential vitamins and minerals.  

Healthy Fats

Olive oil is a healthy fat commonly used in a variety of Mediterranean dishes. It can be used in salad dressings, bean dips, and to grill meats. Aim for 4-6 servings per day. One serving is 1 teaspoon olive oil, 5 olives, or 1/8 of a medium avocado. Olive oil with balsamic vinegar is a great healthy alternative over butter for dipping bread.

Spice It Up
Instead of having salt as the main condiment, the Mediterranean diet uses a variety of other herbs and spices to flavor their foods. Limit your salt consumption and start to incorporate a variety of Mediterranean spices such as saffron, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, basil, parsley, dill, and many more spices into your cooking.  

Keep Snacks On Hand

Nuts and seeds are a staple to the Mediterranean diet. They are also great on-the-go snacks, filled with nutrients, and provide healthy fats and protein. Instead of buying pre-made trail mix, make your own by buying nuts and seeds in bulk and mixing them together. One serving of nuts per day is a great snack to have. Add some dried raisins or whole grain cereal if desired.  

 

References:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/healthy_cooking_101_basics_techniques/shopping_cooking_guides/8_ways_to_follow_the_mediterranean_diet

http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20793870,00.html