The Mediterranean Diet And Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease is the most common of all heart problems affecting Americans. Fortunately, the Mediterranean diet has shown itself to be a great way to reduce the risk of heart disease because it's so rich in healthy fats and fresh foods.
Coronary heart disease is caused by the blocking and hardening of the arteries that lead to the heart. When these arteries are blocked, they reduce blood flow and therefore oxygen flow to the heart. Severe blockages in the heart can cause heart attacks, angina, stroke and death. This is the most easily preventable type of heart disease and can be avoided through diet, exercise and medications if necessary.
Why the Mediterranean Diet?
Numerous studies have shown that a diet modeled after the eating habits of Mediterranean cultures can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. The Mediterranean diet involves plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, and whole grains. If you add to this blend regular physical activity, portion control and limited quantities of processed foods, you have a plan for success. Below we'll outline the basic benefits of this diet.
Not all fats are equal. American food tends to be high in saturated and trans fats found in fried foods, sweets of all kinds and most processed, packaged foods. These are the fats that clog arteries and raise cholesterol. Keep an eye on the labels of everything from cake mixes, crackers and chips, all sweet foods, and dips, salad dressings and toppings. Stay away from partially hydrogenated oils. Good fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, also known as omega-3 fatty acids. These fats actually lower levels of bad cholesterol in the body and can increase blood flow and artery elasticity. Healthy fats are found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies) olive oil, most nuts, avocados and plenty of other foods.
Whole grains will lower cholesterol and also provide quantities of vitamins and antioxidants. Refined grains, which are found in most carbohydrate foods, do nothing for the body or the heart. The process of refining removes all the nutrients from the grain. When choosing breads, crackers or any other grain-based product, check the ingredients; whole grains should be first on the list.
Lean proteins are a great option to choose over most meats. If you're not committed to going vegetarian, try to increase the amounts of lean proteins in your diet and decrease the amount of red meat. Best of all, lean proteins have plenty of fiber and absolutely no cholesterol.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
We just don't eat enough fruits and vegetables. It may be the longer preparation time or the shorter expiration, but it just seems harder to eat fruits and veggies. However, since they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and even fiber, fruits and veggies are the way to go. Try to include a couple different fruits and veggies per meal. Have an apple and some carrots for a snack, instead of chips. Chances are they'll taste better and make you feel better. Essentially, the Mediterranean diet isn't much different from the beneficial low fat diet most doctors recommend to lose weight. It just involves some new foods and flavors many American's aren't used to. All you have to do is learn how to incorporate these foods into your diet, and you'll be on your way to a healthy heart.
Photo Credit: Fabio Trifoni