Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post: ” What we can learn from the Mediterranean Diet: 10 healthy foods to eat.” You can also read it here.
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that has been thought to reduce the incidence of heart disease. Now a large study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on thousands of participants in Spain confirms the health benefits of this eating plan. The study found that those following the Mediterranean diet had a 30 percent reduction in the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. The study subjects were people ages 55-80 who had a high risk for cardiovascular disease.
As reported in the New York Times, “About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals.” The study was stopped early because the results were so clear-cut that they found it not ethical to continue.
The Mediterranean diet is an eating plan that is high in fruits and vegetables, and includes whole grains, olive oil, fish, nuts, beans, and legumes. It is low in foods that are high in saturated fats — such as meat and butter — and is also low in processed foods. What I love about the Mediterranean diet is that it is not touted as a weight-loss diet, but rather as a healthy lifestyle plan and a way life.
I previously wrote about the benefits of eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and rich in whole grains.
So how can we Americans eat more like the Greeks? We can eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, include fish instead of meat, use olive oil instead of butter, and snack on nuts instead of chips.
My clients have been asking me which foods they can include in their diet. Here are some winners.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, a heart-healthy fat. Diets high in olive oil have been associated with heart health. Olive oil is also rich in antioxidants, including vitamin E, polyphenols, and beta-carotene, which protects blood vessels and other components of the heart. Drizzle olive oil on salads and steamed veggies.
Tuna is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been associated with a decrease in the risk of heart disease risk. The American Heart Association recommends including at least two servings of fish per week, in particular fatty fish. Tuna is affordable, convenient, and versatile. Throw canned tuna on a salad, make a sandwich, or toss it into whole wheat pasta, to get a dose of omega-3s.
Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables as it is chock-full of the antioxidant vitamins A and C. It is a cruciferous vegetable, and part of the Brassica family, rich in phytochemicals, known to have antioxidant properties. Sautee broccoli in olive oil and enjoy it as a side dish.
Raspberries contain the antioxidant quercetin — which contains anti-inflammatory benefits — and the phenolic compound ellagic acid, and can help fight heart disease. And even more good news: One cup contains only 105 calories and eight grams of fiber. Throw some berries into your morning yogurt for added color, taste, and a healthy dose of antioxidants and fiber.
Walnuts not only taste great, but also provide a heart-healthy addition to your diet. Rich in the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, and antioxidants such as selenium, walnuts also provide protein, fiber, magnesium and phosphorus to the diet. Include a handful of walnuts as a snack or toss a few tablespoons into your breakfast oatmeal.
Chickpeas are a great option for plant protein and fiber. They also contain magnesium, manganese, iron, and folate. Hummus, which is made from chickpeas, is delicious with crackers or veggies as an afternoon snack.
Brown rice contains fiber, B-vitamins, and a variety of minerals. It contains nearly three times the fiber of white rice. A half-cup serving of cooked brown rice contains nearly a half-day’s worth of the mineral manganese, which works with various enzymes facilitating body processes. Brown rice makes a healthy grain to include with a meal of grilled fish and vegetables.
Spinach contains the minerals iron and potassium, as well as vitamins A, C, K, and the B-vitamin folate. Spinach also contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that may prevent against certain diseases. For good news, it is available year-round, offering a readily-available source of many vitamins and minerals. A fresh spinach salad drizzled with olive oil and a handful of nuts tastes great.
Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and may benefit heart health. Consuming blueberries may keep your blood pressure in check. Blueberries contain anthocyanins, which may reduce the risk of heart disease in women. Snack on these tasty berries or throw a handful into your cereal.
Lentils contain soluble fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates and also offers the added benefit of being a significant source of iron. Consider beginning your lunch or dinner with a hot lentil soup.