Your diet plays a huge role in your overall health, especially when it comes to preventing and managing heart disease.
Common causes of heart disease, including high blood sugar and high cholesterol, are made worse by a poor diet. If you eat meals high in processed sugar, sodium, and fats, your heart will suffer for it. Therefore, the most heart-healthy diets are those that are high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Many different diets fit these criteria, such as the ever-popular DASH diet and the TLC diet. Perhaps the most effective is the Mediterranean diet, which supports not only heart health but also increases longevity and assists in weight control.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
As the name suggests, the Mediterranean diet is based on the types of food eaten by people living around the Mediterranean Sea. It became popular due to research that suggested people living in countries like Greece, France, and Italy experienced health benefits compared to those following the standard American diet.
In particular, researchers found that following a Mediterranean diet could drastically reduce your risk of developing heart disease, type two diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. People living in the Mediterranean region had fewer deaths caused by coronary heart disease and frequently lived longer, healthier lives.
In recent years, the Mediterranean diet has become a popular choice for anyone looking to slim down, but its primary focus is still on promoting healthy eating habits that help prevent heart disease.
Diet as a Heart Disease Treatment
Your regular diet plays a significant role in determining your risk factors for heart disease. If you consistently eat foods that are high in bad fats and cholesterol, which may also have large amounts of sugar and sodium, your heart health will suffer. On the other hand, if you make healthy choices for each meal, you can lower your likelihood of developing heart disease.
Of course, diet is far from the only possible heart disease treatment. You can combine a healthy Mediterranean diet with exercise to multiply its positive effects.
The Mediterranean Diet and Heart Disease
Following the Mediterranean diet can reduce your risk of developing the cardiovascular conditions that contribute to heart disease. Namely, it can lower your blood pressure by cutting out excessive sugar and salt, as well as help keep your cholesterol in check.
Unlike some other diets where you’re only meant to follow them for a few weeks at a time, you can safely follow the Mediterranean diet for years, making it a great option for long-term heart health.
How to Follow the Mediterranean Diet
There isn’t one well-defined set of rules or a strict meal plan associated with the Mediterranean diet. Instead, it focuses on eating a varied diet of primarily produce and whole grains alongside some healthy fats and the occasional glass of red wine.
What to Eat
Just about all whole fruits and vegetables are well suited to the Mediterranean diet, but you should opt for fruits with less sugar when you can. Try to have about seven to ten servings per day.
Rather than eating white bread, pasta, or pastries, choose whole grains, as these have a lower impact on your blood sugar levels.
While you should limit your consumption of saturated and trans fats, your body needs some fats to function. Focus on getting these fats from healthy sources, such as olive oil and fresh fish.
Aim to eat fish for at least two meals each week, as fish contains high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce inflammation and lower your risk of having a stroke.
You can also have low-fat dairy options like Greek yogurt. Don’t forget about low-fat cheeses like feta and mozzarella too.
In addition to seafood and dairy, you can also get protein from plant-based sources like nuts and beans.
What to Limit or Avoid
While the Mediterranean diet lets you enjoy many different meals, there are some ingredients you should avoid. Avoid eating too many processed foods with lots of fats and sugars. Instead, stick to fresh, whole ingredients as often as you can.
Limit how often you have red meat as well, as it is higher in saturated fat than most plant or seafood sources of protein. Go for leaner cuts, and only have a steak or burger on rare occasions, if at all.
Keep your sodium levels in check by leaving salt out of most of your meals. Instead, you can use fresh spices and herbs to give your meals all of the flavor with none of the spikes in blood pressure.
Food For Thought
Improving your health starts with altering your diet. Reducing your risk of heart disease is no exception to this rule.
The Mediterranean diet is very flexible, with plenty of options to suit any palette. Considering its positive effects on your heart and overall well-being, there’s no reason not to give it a try.
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I’m excited to talk about this topic today because not only do I truly believe that you have the power to reverse heart disease and lower high blood pressure to improve your health, but the science also agrees! You can adopt healthy lifestyle practices that improve your health and enrich your life, which can in turn improve the lives of those close to you. You have the power to break the cycle of these chronic diseases so that you can leave a legacy of health to your loved ones.
As you may already know, I use lifestyle medicine as the first line of treatment, before medications, to treat lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Lifestyle-related chronic diseases include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and some cancers, just to name a few. Lifestyle practices, such as eating a whole-food plant-based diet and regular physical activity, can help you improve blood pressure and reverse heart disease. In certain cases, these approaches may even outperform pharmaceutical therapy.
Tools to Improve Heart Health
Blood Pressure Monitoring
Since weight management is very important in blood pressure control, I recommend that you be mindful of your weight and its fluctuations, and that you monitor your weight AT LEAST on a weekly basis. I recommend a scale that includes a body composition monitor.
Remember, healthy lifestyle behaviors–like eating a whole-foods plant-based diet that is low in sodium, being physically active, and stress management are the best ways to prevent and control high blood pressure. Please talk with your doctor about any complementary health approaches, including supplements, you use.
Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
PS. I am always asked what tools and resources I recommend to help you reach YOUR health goals. Here is the ever-growing, always updated list for you.
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