If your heart could choose where you should live, it might tell you to move to one of the lovely countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The level of heart disease there is much lower than other places in the world. Why? Experts believe that the Mediterranean style of eating protects against heart disease. And it may offer even more: Studies show that this way of eating may also lower the risk of some types of cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes. It may even help prevent Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
The good news is that you don’t have to pack up and move to Greece or Italy. You can follow the Mediterranean way of eating in your very own home. All you need to do is follow the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, adjusting the size of the servings to meet your daily needs. Read on for more details on how to fill your plate the Mediterranean way.
EVERY MAIN MEAL
Eat one or two servings of fruit. A serving is a small piece of fruit, ¾ cup of berries or 17 grapes. Choose fresh fruit instead of juice or fruit canned in syrup. If you worry that fruit may raise your blood glucose level too high, try those that have a lower glycemic index (GI) value. The natural sugar found in foods with a lower GI value enters the bloodstream more slowly. Good choices include apples, oranges, strawberries and blueberries.
Eat two servings of vegetables (at least one should be raw). A serving is ½ cup cooked or 1 cup of raw vegetables. You can even fit veggies into your breakfast menu: Try drinking a glass of low sodium tomato juice to start your day. Add tomatoes, onions and peppers to an omelet or scrambled eggs. As your day goes on, enjoy more vegetable juice, salads and cooked, steamed or raw vegetables. Vegetable-rich soups are great, too.
Eat one or two servings of foods that contain fiber-rich grains. These include whole grain bread, pasta, rice or couscous. One serving of a grain food is one slice (1 ounce) of bread or ¹/³ cup of cooked pasta, rice or couscous. The whole grain versions of these foods provide a lot of healthy nutrients that are lost when the fiber is taken out.
Drink plenty of water. Some people need to drink more than others, but everyone needs to drink some. When you are well hydrated, your body will function better. Seltzer water and herbal tea count as water, too.
Eat two servings of low-fat dairy in the form of milk, yogurt or cheese. These all help make your bones stronger. Remember that milk and yogurt are considered to be carbohydrate-based foods (one serving is 8 ounces of milk or ¾ cup yogurt), while cheese is a protein food.
Enjoy olives, nuts and seeds. If you combine these heart-healthy foods with different spices, you can make your Mediterranean Diet meals quite tasty. If you wish to lose some weight, limit the amount you eat from this group, as these foods are high in fat and calories.
Use olive oil as your main fat choice. Olive oil helps lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol that clogs blood vessels. Olive oil is rich in calories, so use it in smaller amounts. The best type to use is extra virgin. It also has the richest flavor, so you don’t need to use a lot.
Enjoy some wine. A small amount of wine each day may help lower your risk of heart disease. Women should limit their daily intake to one glass (5 ounces). Men should limit their daily intake to no more than two glasses (10 ounces). Don’t drink wine if you have a problem with alcohol, or if your healthcare provider tells you that it is not safe for you to do so.
Eat two or more servings of fish, two servings of lean meat and two to four servings of eggs. All of these are great sources of protein. Fish and seafood are rich in heart-healthy fats. Vegetable oil, nuts and fish contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower triglycerides (a type of blood fat), help make your blood vessels healthier, and may help prevent heart attacks.
Try to avoid processed meat. Processed meat includes hot dogs, bacon and cold cuts. These foods are high in sodium and, often, unhealthy saturated fat. If you must have some, limit your intake to no more than one serving per week.
Eat two or more servings of legumes, such as beans, peas and lentils. These protein-rich foods are cholesterol-free, high in fiber and tend to be low in fat. Legumes contain carbohydrates, as well, so be sure to count them as one of your carb choices in your eating plan. One serving of legumes is ½ cup.
Limit your intake of potatoes. Experts who studied the value of the Mediterranean Diet in people who have diabetes asked them not to eat any potatoes. But if you wish to have some, limit your servings to three or fewer.
Limit your sweets. Have two or fewer servings of sweets, such as cookies, ice cream and candy each week.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
The Mediterranean Diet also encourages several non-food actions: daily physical activity, rest and good times with
friends. How you live your life affects your heart and other areas of your body. If you get plenty of rest, and are social and active, your stress level will be lower.
This way of eating and living may differ from how you live right now, but you and your heart may find it worthwhile.