The Mediterranean Diet and Heart Health

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 10:54 AM

Med DietHeart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. Genetics, tobacco use, family history, obesity, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, stress and diet all contribute to this alarming statistic. Some heart-healthy changes are easier to make than others, but finding a balanced diet that appeals to the entire family, while also possibly lowering your risk for heart disease, might be easier and more enjoyable than you think.

Many studies have shown that the rates of heart disease as well as certain types of cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease were lower for those living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, researchers have been able to determine that diet played a significant role in keeping the community healthy and living longer. The fundamental components of that diet are known as the Mediterranean diet plan.

Philip Krause, MD, Interventional Cardiologist at NorthShore, discusses the benefits of a Mediterranean diet plan and what makes it so great for your heart:

Focuses on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. On a typical American plate, meat is the star. On a Mediterranean diet plate, meat plays second fiddle to fresh fruit, vegetables, beans and whole grains. When the focus on the meal shifts toward fresh fruits and vegetables, the result is a diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.

Puts the salt shaker away. Excessive salt consumption can raise your blood pressure, which may damage the arteries leading to your heart. And there’s no doubt about it: Americans consume too much salt. The Mediterranean diet diversifies the spice rack, favoring spices and herbs over salt.

Cuts down on red meat. Red meat is sidelined in favor of proteins that contain healthy fats like fish, poultry and nuts. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can be a very beneficial part of your heart healthy diet plan. 

Makes olive oil the main source of fat. Just say no to butter. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat and this type of fat may help bring high cholesterol levels in the right direction. It also may help regulate insulin levels in those suffering from type 2 diabetes.  

Allows for a glass of red wine. This is a great perk for the older adherents of the Mediterranean diet. When consumed in moderation (one four-ounce serving per day), red wine can be beneficial to your heart health by reducing LDL cholesterol levels and increasing HDL cholesterol levels. 

Limits portion sizes and cuts the carbs. Just because the Mediterranean diet plan is healthy doesn’t mean recommended foods can be consumed in unlimited quantities. Watch your portion sizes as you would with any diet or dish. If both weight loss and heart health are goals, limiting portion sizes along with carbohydrate intake—reducing the consumption of bread, potatoes, rice by 50%—can markedly assist in weight loss.

#NSHearts the Mediterranean diet! Do you? What are your favorite heart-healthy recipes? 

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