3 Heart-Healthy Foods For Your DietPosted on: December 15, 2016 in Diet
One of the areas with which we have the most control over when it comes to heart health is the food we choose to put in our bodies. The nutrients (or lack thereof) provided by what we eat play a huge role in maintaining a healthy heart and vessels.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular approaches for those planning their eating habits with heart health in mind. Named after the region of the world from which it draws inspiration, the Mediterranean diet is high in fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown a correlation between the Mediterranean diet and reduced risk of heart disease, as well as several other major health benefits.
One goal of the Mediterranean diet is to lower the consumption and retention of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, in the bloodstream. This diet comes with several other health benefits as well. Here are some of the most common foods and portion sizes recommended in the Mediterranean diet.
1. Fruits, Vegetables and Other Plant-Based Foods
Foods that come directly from the earth are the primary basis of the Mediterranean diet, starting with fruits and vegetables. Both are high in antioxidants and contain little to no LDL or other harmful items.
Other vital parts of the diet include plant-based foods. Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet particularly as a replacement for butter or margarine in foods high in trans and saturated fats (or bad fats). Seeds, nuts and beans are also generally acceptable for snacking, but they should be eaten in moderation due to possible high fat content. Most herbs and spices are good, but be sure to check nutritional facts just to be sure they aren’t high in cholesterol or bad fats. Finally, the consumption of whole grain wherever bread products are necessary is another key component of the diet.
Imagine a food pyramid. Within the Mediterranean diet, plant-based foods are the pyramid’s foundation. Fruits and veggies should be consumed multiple times daily. Some doctors even recommend up to 10 servings a day. Cut out butter and similar products if possible, and make an emphasis on whole grains.
The next level up on the Mediterranean diet pyramid contains seafood. Most types of fish are low in trans or saturated fats, but high in Omega-3 fatty acids acids with heart and vein benefits ranging from decreasing blood clots to lowering blood pressure.
As with any food in this diet, be sure to practice moderation. Fish is recommended a couple times per week on average, though this could vary depending on the type of fish and other ingredients used in preparation. Where possible, try to avoid frying your fish, as this process can add bad fats and cholesterol.
There are also foods to minimize or avoid as part of a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet: red meats. Beef, bacon, sausage and others can be high in bad fats and cholesterols, and offer limited positive nutrients. If you can cut them out altogether and replace them (within reason) with fish and poultry, that’s the best possible outcome. For those who can’t shake the urge, a handful of times per month is the absolute limit on red meats (note: sweets and candies are in this same category).
3. Poultry and Dairy
Dairy and poultry products should be used in strict moderation, but are still preferable to red meats in the Mediterranean diet.
Eggs are a good choice and can be eaten as the primary protein in a meal a few times per week. Poultry should be consumed with more moderation, pending serving sizes, but is generally a healthy alternative to red meat so long as other ingredients (sauces, side dishes, etc.) don’t contain items harmful to the diet. Dairy can be eaten in reasonable quantities, but be sure to shoot for low-fat dairy wherever possible. Yogurt can be a good source of protein, particularly Greek yogurt. Try to find Greek yogurt without added sugars and add your own fruit or nuts.
Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan. The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801?pg=1
Mediterranean Diet. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Mediterranean-Diet_UCM_306004_Article.jsp#.WBuln2orKpo