The Mediterranean Diet: A Heart-Healthy Lifestyle for the Entire Family

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 11:55 AM comments (0)

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. And while some heart-healthy changes are easier to make than others, 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.

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 were lower for those living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Researchers were 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.

Philip Krause, MD, Interventional Cardiologist at NorthShore, discusses what makes the Mediterranean diet 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 very beneficial. 

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 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.

Share your heart-healthy Mediterranean diet recipes with us on Facebook. 

Salt – When Too Much is Too Much

Monday, November 12, 2012 2:11 PM comments (0)

A dash of salt here and there for flavoring can’t hurt, right? While moderate amounts of sodium in your daily diet are fine, it’s often easy to eat more than necessary. Look on any label – especially those of pre-packaged and more-processed foods—and sodium is almost certain to be one of the ingredients.

The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 mg daily as the highest daily acceptable level, and if you are over 51 years, African American or have heart disease including high blood pressure, the recommendation is 1,500 mg.

Too much salt can lead to health problems, including cardiovascular disease particularly hypertension. For this reason, it’s never a bad idea to learn some quick ways to pass on the salt.

Mary Bennett, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at NorthShore, offers the following tips to help reduce your daily sodium intake:

  • Read the label. Before purchasing and consuming food, read the label. If the total sodium value on the label is more than 5% of the recommended daily value of sodium, you may want to reconsider purchasing or at least limit your portion size.
  • Pass on passing the salt shaker. Maybe the easiest way to avoid eating too much salt is to not have the shaker on the table during mealtimes. If you are looking to add additional flavors to a dish, use herbs and spices. There are also sodium-free mixes available that can provide lots of flavor without the sodium.
  • Eat in, not out. More often than not when you eat out – especially at fast food restaurants—more sodium will be added than what you would typically use at home. The best way to reduce your salt intake when you’re out to eat is to avoid adding additional garnishes (pickles, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, etc.) to your meal and to watch your portion size.
  • Opt for the low- or reduced-sodium choices at the grocery store. If you can, choose natural ingredients and skip the frozen, processed and packaged food options.

What do you do to limit your sodium consumption? What is one salty food you couldn’t live without?

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