Mediterranean Diet: 12 Tips For A Heart-Healthy Diet
February is American Heart Month. Despite being the shortest month of the year, February is the perfect time to renew your focus on healthy eating in order to live a heart-friendly life. Our diets play a major role in how we keep our hearts healthy and prevent issues like heart disease from developing. Eating too many fatty, sweet or processed foods can do serious damage over time. And habits like drinking too much alcohol and skimping on fresh fruits and vegetables don’t help, either.
We can dramatically reduce the stress we put on our hearts by making smart modifications to our diets. And one of the best heart-healthy diets is the Mediterranean diet. Not only is this a great diet to lose weight, but it's a sustainable lifestyle change. The Mediterranean diet is one of the recommended diets in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a governmental resource that promotes healthy eating choices that prevent chronic disease.
Enriched with healthy snacks, healthy foods, loads of nutrition and allowances for discretionary eating, this diet is also recognized by the World Health Organization as healthy and sustainable. A triple threat, the Mediterranean diet also adheres to the American Heart Association’s recommendations for healthy eating.
Take the first steps toward a healthy heart. Visit ochsner.org/heartmonth
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is a versatile diet that is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil. This diet is a great way to replace the saturated fats that many Americans consume.
The Mediterranean diet is linked to stronger bones, cardiovascular health, a lower risk of dementia and breast cancer, a longer lifespan and a reduced risk for diabetes and high blood pressure.
The main components include:
- Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats.
- Weekly intake of fish, poultry and eggs.
- Consumption of legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Moderate intake of dairy products.
- Limited intake of red meat.
- Being physically active.
If you’ve been watching your weight or cholesterol recently, it’s possible you are already following some parts of the Mediterranean diet without realizing it! Here are some of the simplest ways to begin incorporating this sustainable diet into your meal plan.
Eat more fruit. Try to eat seven to 10 servings of your favorite fruits a day. You can never go wrong with fruit, but some staples include apples, bananas, grapes and oranges.
Eat more vegetables. Aim for seven to 10 servings a day of vegetables. Some options include spinach, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, onions and bell peppers. Try out different vegetables and see what you like!
Eat more seafood. Try to eat fish at least twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices. Eat it grilled or baked. Don’t eat deep-fried fish, and make sure your seafood is locally sourced. If you are concerned about cholesterol levels in some of your favorite seafood like oysters and shrimp, then this article is for you.
Use healthy fats. Try to replace butter with extra virgin olive oil when cooking. If you’re adventurous, try avocado as a replacement for butter in your desserts. Other healthy fats include legumes, nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds and cashews.
Be a home chef. Meal prep healthy recipes for the week in advance to ensure you always have a healthy option instead of fast food or dining out.
Look for the Eat Fit logo on your local restaurant menu. Ochsner Eat Fit has restaurant recommendations throughout the state where you can eat heart-healthy meals even while dining out.
Choose whole grains. Switch to whole grain or whole-wheat bread, cereal and pasta. Experiment with other whole grains, such as bulgur and farro. Choose whole-wheat rice, pasta and bread over white options to maintain nutritional value.
Reduce red meat. Substitute red meat for fish, poultry or beans. If you eat meat, make sure it's lean like turkey or boneless skinless chicken breasts and keep portions small.
Eat less dairy. If you can eat dairy products, enjoy low-fat Greek or plain yogurt and small amounts of cheese like gouda, brie or goat cheese. Avoid flavored yogurt, which is high in added sugars. A delicious alternative is adding your own sweetness using fruits or honey.
Add some spice. Herbs and spices boost flavor without needing to add a lot of extra salt. Be generous with spices suited to your tastes and tolerance levels.
Eat more beans and eggs. Mix black beans or garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, into your diet.
Embrace natural sugars. Try to choose fruit for a sweet treat over snacks that have high added sugar content. And when you do choose a sugary dessert, eat in moderation. Opt for fruit instead of chocolate, cakes or cookies a few times a week.
What are the main differences between the keto diet and the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a great alternative to the popular ketogenic diet, which is commonly called the keto diet. Designed to help control seizures in some people with epilepsy, the keto diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. In the medical sense, this diet is prescribed by a physician and carefully monitored by a dietitian.
Americans like the keto diet because of its claims of quick weight loss. However, there are a lot of drawbacks to the keto diet when attempting to sustain it in the long term.
The Mediterranean diet on the other hand is sustainable and involves reasonable food changes that allow you to eat a variety of foods. Incorporating healthy habits from the Mediterranean diet into your life would increase the likelihood of your sustaining a heart-healthy diet. Once again, the Mediterranean diet was ranked No. 1 in U.S. News and World Report's ranking of the best diets.
If you have a medical condition or are on medications, you should always consult your doctor. The Mediterranean diet, like any diet, should be paired with an active lifestyle to sustain a heart-healthy you!
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Feb. 1, 2020.