The Mediterranean heart diet isn’t really a new thing – in fact it’s exactly how we’ve been advised to eat for the last half century. It’s just now been given a good name. In essence the Mediterranean heart diet involves eating lean proteins, healthy fats and oils, grains that are high in fibre and drinking small amounts of red wine, as well as other substances that boost your metabolism, act as antioxidants and aid weight loss. Let’s have a look at the three major components of the Mediterranean Heart Diet – you’ll see that it’s not at all difficult to make these subtle changes to your diet, and help to greatly reduce your cholesterol, and your risk of heart disease and cancer.
Contrary to what you learned in school, not all fats are bad. The human body needs certain fats and oils in order to survive, and in fact getting the right amount of the right kinds of fats can increase your rate of weight loss. Learn the difference between saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and trans-fatty acids.
The Mediterranean heart diet recommends using olive oil only – but remember that olive oil becomes just as unhealthy as regular oils when cooked! Use it on salads and in dressings, but try to do your cooking using as little oil as possible. You want to look for oil products and margarines that have omega-6 and omega-3 oils. Some nuts, vegetable oils, avocado pears and olives all have these.
Managing your protein intake is central to the Mediterranean heart diet. Red meat should be eaten only once or twice a month, and shellfish and fish only once or twice a week. The rest of the time you should be taking in your protein in the form of protein rich vegetables, nuts and lean poultry. Grilled or boiled is always better than fried.
The emphasis is in whole grains and carbohydrates that are high in fibre. Good examples of these are rye bread, couscous, whole wheat pasta and brown rice. Carbohydrates should never constitute more than a third of any meal, and if you’re only eating white bread and flour pasta you’ve got a one-way ticket to weight gain, water retention and cardiac problems.
Condiments and Additives
A major component of every meal in the Mediterranean heart diet is vegetables and fruits. The general rule is that you can eat as many as you want, but make sure you avoid high-fat items like avocado if you’re trying to lose weight. You want lots of beans, peas and lentils, as these are high in protein and vitamins. Avoid frozen vegetables and buy fresh ones whenever you can.
Aside from vegetables, salt should be used rarely, and replaced with spices. Buy a Mediterranean spice collection (available at most large stores for under $25) and have some fun experimenting with different combinations to create different tastes. Rub spices into meat with a little olive oil before grilling them, or create spiced butter to melt over meats in the last minute of grilling – there are almost endless ways you can use spices that are more exciting than salt, and far healthier.
Finally, you’ve probably heard that red wine is a part of the Mediterranean heart diet. While this is true, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should start drinking red wine if you do not already. Excess alcohol consumption increases your rate of weight gain. However, one glass if you’re female, or two if you’re male, will provide you with certain antioxidants which increase your HDL levels.
HDL is a type of ‘good’ cholesterol which helps to remove the bad kind of cholesterol which clogs your arteries and causes heart disease and high blood pressure. Bear in mind that similar antioxidants can be found in non-alcoholic sources. Consult your doctor if you do not wish to drink red wine, or you think you may have high cholesterol.
Remember, the Mediterranean heart diet is a diet that is focussed on overall cardiac health, and not necessarily weight loss. However, if you eat according to the Mediterranean heart diet in moderation, and combine it with a healthy exercise program, you will have a much better chance of losing weight and improving your overall and cardiac health.