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Mediterranean Diet is Great for Heart Health


Heart Healthy DietsThe idea of going on a diet usually prompts a feeling of dread at the notion of giving up the foods most people actually want to eat. Deprivation and starvation loom overhead while cracking open the first diet protein shake and purging the fridge of all potential temptations. Is it too much to ask for a diet that permits real food and maybe even a glass of wine now and then?

Fortunately, the secrets of one of the world’s oldest diets are being revealed, and they don’t involve chemically processed fiber bars or a truckload of grapefruits. The Mediterranean diet, with its focus on whole grains and healthy fats is especially useful for people worried about their heart health as well as their waistlines.

“The Mediterranean Diet can help people reduce their blood pressure, balance their cholesterol levels, decrease waist size, and lower sugar rate,” said Dr. Steven Shayani, Medical Director of Long Island Heart Associates. “All of these factors contribute to a person’s overall health and effects the risk of heart disease and diabetes.”

Instead of completely demolishing the traditional food pyramid, the Mediterranean diet simply reorganizes a few things. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains provide the basis for daily meals while fish and seafood are incorporated several times a week. Poultry, eggs and dairy are eaten moderately, but red meat and sweets are recommended only a few times a month.

Unlike most other diets, which restrict all kinds of fat, the Mediterranean diet embraces mono- and polyunsaturated fats like those found in olive oil, beans, fish and nuts. Replacing butter and margarine with heart healthy olive or canola oils has been shown to improve overall cholesterol levels. Mediterranean people use a splash of olive oil in everything from pastas to vegetables, salads, fish and even pastries.

Instead of banishing all fatty foods, the Mediterranean diet encourages the consumption of healthy fats, which also cause the stomach to feel satisfied more quickly. Eating small meals throughout the day gives ample opportunity to incorporate as many fruits and vegetables as possible, while still enjoying staples such as pasta, bread and cereal (in whole-wheat forms). Nearly anything in fruit or veggie form is fair game in this diet, though Mediterraneans themselves favor tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, spinach, eggplant, white beans, lentil and chick peas.

The Mediterranean diet also places a premium on local fare, encouraging followers to eat produce at its peak of freshness. What is fresh and available in a Mediterranean climate might not be found in your area, meaning you should tailor eating habits around what farmers in your area are providing.

Beyond food, a glass of wine with dinner is considered perfectly acceptable in this diet. The antioxidant powers of red wine have also been found to benefit heart health when consumed in moderation.

While the principles of the Mediterranean diet have been scientifically proven to aid in weight loss and the prevention of heart disease, adopting an overall healthy lifestyle is the best way to ensure a strong heart. By combining Mediterranean eating habits with regular exercise and stress management programs (such as yoga or meditation) you can give your body its best chance for optimum health.

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