When it comes to keeping your heart healthy, what you eat is important. But knowing what to eat can be difficult. The Mediterranean diet is a good place to begin.
February is American Heart Month—a month dedicated each year to raising awareness about heart health. That’s why this month we’re seizing the opportunity to share some insight about how your diet can impact your heart.
If you’ve ever the phrase “you are what you eat,” you know that that’s not exactly true. But what you eat does play a key role in determining your overall health.
If you’re filling your plate with lots of fast food and junk food, you’re probably taking in large quantities of saturated fat, sodium and added sugar. All of which can be harmful to your heart health.
So, what’s the alternative?
You want to build a heart-healthy diet. If you’re not sure where to begin, knowing the basics of the Mediterranean diet can help give you a solid foundation.
Making Sense of the Mediterranean Diet
You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean diet. But did you know that it isn’t actually one specific diet?
This “diet” is actually simply a set of eating best practices gleaned from the people in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Why mimic their diet? Because that population tends to experience fewer heart health issues than Americans—and it’s thought that what they eat plays a key role.
Because it isn’t one set diet, Mediterranean eating habits differ somewhat from country to country. People in Greece, for example, eat slightly different foods than those who live in Italy.
But the basic principles are the same across the board, and those are what we can learn from. Boost your heart health with these eating habits:
- Load up on fruits and veggies. These essential foods contain a wide variety of nutrients and antioxidants that promote good heart health. Because those nutrients vary from fruit to fruit and vegetable to vegetable, aim to eat some of every color of the rainbow. Fill half your plate with these good-for-you foods—they’ll fill you up and provide you with energy.
- Choose whole grains. What’s an Italian meal without good bread or pasta? You don’t have to deprive yourself of the good stuff when following these habits. You simply want to choose the best varieties of those foods. Choose whole-grain varieties to provide you with fiber and healthy carbohydrates.
- Load up on beans, nuts and seeds. You might consider these “outliers” in your current diet. But your health will benefit if you increase your intake. They provide fiber, and in the case of nuts and seeds, also bump your intake of the heart-healthy variety of fat.
- Choose your fats wisely. Speaking of fat, not all fat is bad. In fact, you need fat in your diet to give your body energy and support cell growth. But you need to choose the right kind of fat. You want to look for “monounsaturated” and “polyunsaturated” fats, such as those found in olive oil, fish and nuts—all staples of the Mediterranean diet.
- Eat more fish. Bumping up your intake of fatty fish will benefit your heart. This type of fish, also called “oily fish,” includes salmon, mackerel and tuna, which all contain heart-healthy fatty acids known as omega-3s. Fish is also an excellent source of lean protein.
- Choose lean protein. Supplement your fish intake with lean sources of protein like chicken and turkey. These are healthier options than red meat, which can have a harmful effect on your heart when consumed in large quantities.
- Raise a glass to heart health. It’s no wonder that wine is a staple in many Mediterranean cultures. The resveratrol found in red wine has been shown to boost heart health, and it offers other benefits, too, including protection against cancer and prevention of vision loss. Toast your heart with an occasional glass of red wine—in moderation, of course—or get your resveratrol intake from grapes and berries.
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