Savoring Heart Health with the Mediterranean Diet

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined. The silver lining? Dietary and lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your risk. If you’re ready to make a heart-healthy shift, look no further than the Mediterranean diet.

Recently crowned by U.S. News and World Report as the best overall diet for the seventh consecutive year, the Mediterranean diet isn’t just a passing trend – it’s a proven and effective dietary plan deeply grounded in research, celebrated for its heart health benefits.

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet:

The Mediterranean dietary pattern is best known for its effectiveness in reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but did you know it also support maternal and fetal health?  A compelling study from December 2022 highlighted a significant 21% reduction in the risk of pregnancy complications and preterm birth among women who closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet during conception and early pregnancy.

So, what exactly is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet isn’t a strict diet plan but rather a lifestyle. Picture a plate filled with colorful fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Olive oil takes center stage for its heart-healthy fats, and seafood, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is a regular feature. Dairy, poultry, and red meat are enjoyed in moderation, and a touch of red wine is perfectly acceptable. It’s a tasty way of eating that’s good for your health!

How do I get started?

As with any healthy dietary pattern, the most significant gains come with consistency. Start by incorporating one or two of the following tips and gradually add more over time. Remember, small steps lead to lasting results.

Tip 1: Aim for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Action steps: Enhance your breakfast by adding berries or banana slices to oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt. For convenient snacks, keep an apple, cutie, banana, or ¼ cup of dried fruit in your car, desk drawer, or gym bag.

Tip 2: Opt for whole grains over refined grains.

Action step: Choose brown rice instead of white rice, 100% whole wheat bread over enriched bread, and replace all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour. These simple swaps offer increased protein, fiber, B-vitamins, and minerals.

Tip 3: Make extra virgin olive oil your main cooking oil.

Action Step: Drizzle olive oil on meat or vegetables before roasting and use it for sautéing to incorporate beneficial monounsaturated fats. Also, consider dressing salads with a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a flavorful and heart-healthy touch.

Tip 4: Incorporate plant-based proteins like beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas into your diet.

Action step: Try replacing half of the ground beef in recipes such as spaghetti, sloppy joes, or chili with brown lentils. This not only introduces plant-based protein but also helps extend your food budget.

Tip 5: Aim to include fish and seafood in your meals at least twice a week.

Action step: Take advantage of Lent sales to stock up on seafood. Frozen fish can stay fresh for up to eight months. Opt for varieties like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and albacore tuna, known for their high content of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Tip 6: Enhance the flavor of your food with herbs and spices.

Action step: Opt for salt-free blends such as Mrs. Dash to add taste without the sodium. Additionally, liven up your dishes with a splash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

Tip 7: Reduce your intake of red meat and heavily processed foods like sausage, bacon, and hot dogs.

Action step: Opt for poultry or select lean cuts of beef and pork labeled with “loin” or “round.” When choosing ground meat, opt for varieties that are 90% to 95% lean for a healthier option.

Tip 8: Cultivate the habit of sharing meals with family and friends. Enjoying food together is a traditional Mediterranean practice known to enhance mental well-being.

Action step: Set aside a specific day, like “Together Tuesday,” to share a meal with others. This simple practice can strengthen connections and add joy to your dining experienc.

Find support for your nutrition goals

Click below for upcoming nutrition classes!

A Heart Healthy Recipe: Savory Slow Cooker Lentils by Sara Dow

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup brown rice 
  • ¾ cup dried green or brown lentils (found near the dried beans and rice)
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes (opt for the oregano, basil, and garlic seasoned variety for an extra flavorful twist in this recipe!)
  • 4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2-3 fresh garlic cloves, minced

Preparation:

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook on high for 3 hours or low for 5 hours. Top with crumbled feta cheese and savor! Store in the fridge for 3-5 days.

Yield: 6 servings (1 cup each)

Nutrition: Brown rice and lentils offer plant-based protein and fiber, aiding in cholesterol reduction and supporting heart and gut health. Tomatoes provide vitamin C and lycopene, potent antioxidants boosting the immune system and reducing cancer risk. Garlic, a natural antimicrobial, enhances immunity and promotes heart health.

Discover this Resource…

The American Heart Association offers a free digital recipe book, Shop Smart Eat Smart, with simple healthy heart recipes. They also provide resources for healthy eating, including meal planning, storage, food prep, and cooking skills. 

About Sara Dow

Sara is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist for the YMCA. In 2018, Sara was inspired by the YMCA community to go back to school and pursue her dream of becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).  Her monthly blog posts feature evidence-based nutrition information, healthy recipes, and member Q&As. 

Want to level up your nutrition?  Register for a One-On-One Performance Nutrition Workshop with Sara. In this 60-minute session, Sara will provide evidence-based guidelines for pre- and post-workout nutrition specific to your goals, healthy recipes, and practical tips for incorporating real foods into your diet to support optimal performance and recovery. Click here to register today! 

Have a question? Drop Sara a line at [email protected].

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