Heart-Healthy Eating Plan

Jackie’s Favorite Heart-healthy Eating Plan

Mediterranean DietIf you’re looking for a heart-healthy eating plan, the Mediterranean diet might be right for you, and Jackie follows it—and not just because she is half Greek!   The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating — plus a splash of flavorful olive oil and an occasional glass of red wine — among other components characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Most healthy diets include fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit unhealthy fats. While these parts of a healthy diet remain tried-and-true, subtle variations or differences in proportions of certain foods may make a difference in your risk of heart disease.

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. In fact, a recent analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality, a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and a reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. For this reason, most if not all major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adapt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases. And since heart disease is the leading killer of women, far beyond breast cancer, it is especially important that women follow heart-healthy eating habits now more than ever.

After analyzing the diets of more than 4,600 women, researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that most loyal to the Mediterranean Diet possessed longer telomeres, the chromosomal caps that protect our DNA. Telomere length is a window on biological aging. Telomeres naturally shrink over time, but oxidative stress and inflammation speed that process. The Mediterranean Diet’s heavy-duty antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers may counter those shortening effects on telomeres, suggest the study, published in the British Medical Journal.  I’m not surprised!~ Jackie

Key Components of the Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet PyramidThe Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)

Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts and Grains

The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice. For example, residents of Greece eat very little red meat and average nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.

Nuts are another part of a healthy Mediterranean diet. Nuts are high in fat (approximately 80 percent of their calories come from fat), but most of the fat is not saturated. Because nuts are high in calories, they should not be eaten in large amounts — generally no more than a handful a day. For the best nutrition, avoid candied or honey-roasted and heavily salted nuts.

Grains in the Mediterranean region are typically whole grain and usually contain very few unhealthy trans fats, and bread is an important part of the diet there. However, throughout the Mediterranean region, bread is eaten plain or dipped in olive oil — not eaten with butter or margarines, which contain saturated or trans fats.

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