I always knew I loved those fun-loving and crazy Spaniards and Italians and now, thanks to a new study, it’s apparent our hearts love them too! The findings, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that nearly 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and even deaths of high-risk people could be prevented if they eat like those who commonly live along the Mediterranean Sea. Sounds good to me…literally!
The Spanish study reports that a diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, along with optional red wine, can reduce the risk of heart disease…even more so than a traditional low-fat diet. The results were so overwhelming that even those conducting it and other experts were themselves amazed. This heart-healthy option reportedly may lower the level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is the “bad” cholesterol that can clog up your arteries. So, oil and nuts, is that really the secret?
Nope, there’s more to it than just that. The Mediterranean Diet, as it’s being dubbed, incorporates standard healthy items but they are prepared in the traditional style found in cities and towns all over Spain, Italy, Greece and other neighboring locales. The plan consists of lots of fruits and vegetables and pasta and rice…whole grain pasta and rice.
In short, the Mediterranean Diet includes:
Eating primarily “plant-based” foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
Eating red meat no more than a few times a month
Eating fish and poultry at least twice a month
Replacing butter with olive and/or canola oil
Flavoring food with natural herbs and spices rather than salt
Drinking red wine in moderation if desired
Avoiding processed foods
Getting plenty of exercise
The diet also encourages the eating and enjoyment of eating meals with family and friends in a leisurely, relaxed manner. What a concept America!
It’s also important to note that, although exercise is encouraged, the Mediterranean Diet isn’t intended to be a weight loss answer. But, anytime you remove process foods and the likes from your diet, you very well could see the pounds come off.
As with any nutritional diet, everything is done in moderation. Nuts are high in calories so no more than a handful a day is suggested, and avoid candied, honey-roasted, or heavily salted varieties. In addition, bread may be a staple on Mediterranean tables, but it is served with olive oil and herbs, not butter or margarines. In addition, if you’re going to add nuts to a now “no nut” diet, you need to take something out of your diet to make up for the extra calories you’ll be adding to your salads, snacks, and yogurts with the nuts. When you do eat red meat, choose the leanest cut you can. A New York Strip is probably healthier than a Rib-eye and meats from pasture-raised natural fed cows will be leaner than those from corn-fed cows. Keep in mind that the only animals that are naturally “fatty” are whales, seals, and salmon. I love me some salmon but I don’t think whale or seal is on anyone’s “to eat” list, much less mine!
All of this supports much of what the American Heart Association has long trumped and the study’s results have been reported on WebMD, the Mayo Clinic’s website, and various national news organizations. Still, there are skeptics. Dr. Dean Ornish says that after he carefully read the report he concluded that “a significant reduction in stroke in those consuming a Mediterranean diet high in omega-3 fatty acids when compared to those who were not making significant changes in their diet,” occurred, leaving the low-fat vs. Mediterranean argument up for grabs. Simply change your current eating habits to more healthy ones and, one would assume, your chances of having a heart attack or stroke lessen.
I figure it’s worth a shot though, and since I’m definitely a “systematic make a list and cross it off” kinda gal, following the Spanish, Italian and Greek “do’s and don’ts” makes sense to me. When in Rome, or even Texas, do like the Romans, right? Cin cin!