March is National Nutrition Month, and it’s a great opportunity to take a closer look at how your diet can affect your heart health. Your diet is one of the most important contributing factors to the health of your heart. In fact, a well-balanced diet full of protein, vegetables, and yes, even fats can help reduce your heart disease risk. That's why Cardiovascular Institute of the South offers nutrition resources to help you learn how to improve your diet.
One of the most popular heart-healthy regimens to follow is the Mediterranean diet. Unlike other diets or meal plans, the Mediterranean diet focuses on what types of food you eat rather than cutting out important food groups or restricting your caloric intake. A heart-healthy Mediterranean diet characterizes the traditional cooking style of countries along the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean diet focuses heavily on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, legumes and nuts. So let’s take a closer look at how this diet works to help reduce your heart disease risk.
The Key Components
We are what we eat, so the saying goes, but there is a lot of truth in this. When we load our bodies up with highly-processed foods loaded with added fats and sugars, we end up feeling the effects quite immediately. So try to include as much fresh food as possible while minimizing processed foods. Let's break down the foods we should be eating into a few categories.
Everyday Foods: Fruits and Vegetables, Whole Grains, Beans and Legumes, Nuts and Seeds, Olive Oil, Herbs and Spices.
These foods should make up the majority of what you eat on a daily basis. Any combination of these foods should total about seven to 10 servings a day. If you’re still hungry, almonds, cashews, and walnuts without added salt or sugar are a great quick snack.
Weekly (Moderation): Fish, Seafood, Poultry and Eggs, Low-fat Cheese And Yogurt.
When it comes to your protein choices, consider substituting fish and poultry for red meat. Keep meat portions lean and small. Also, avoid sausage, bacon or other high-fat meats. When it comes to choosing fish, choose cold water fish over frozen options.
Monthly (1-2 times): Red meat and sweets
Lowering your red meat consumption has proven benefits, including lowering your heart disease risk. Processed foods are often saturated with malnutients that cause your body harm. Cutting out these saturated and trans fats and replacing them with better fats can contribute to your wellbeing.
Making The Move
Starting and keeping up with any dietary changes can be difficult, but here are a few tips to help make the transition easier.
- Clean out your pantry:
- Throw away highly processed foods.
- Reduce red meats and start to replace it with fish and poultry.
- Try fruit instead of sweets for dessert.
- Slowly add more fruits and vegetables into every meal:
- Use olive oil, herbs, and spices for flavor instead of salt and butter.
- Choose brown rice and whole grain bread.
- Eat plant-based foods 80% of the time:
- Grab a handful of nuts or fruit for a snack
- Limit dairy to low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk with CIS
The Mediterranean diet has been consistently shown to be beneficial in reducing high blood pressure and improving heart and vascular health. It is advocated by many professional societies, including the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and the International Society of Hypertension and provides an excellent template to improve cardiovascular health.
It’s important to consult with your physician before making any changes if you have a pre-existing dietary plan. If you’re interested in making the switch to the Mediterranean diet and don’t know where to start, consider scheduling a consultation with Cardiovascular Institute of the South.