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Look After Your Heart With the Mediterranean Diet

By , Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2013
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It seems a new diet craze comes out every few weeks which promises to help you lose weight or gain enough muscle to pull a bus with your pinky finger. While some of these diets can be effective, most of them neglect to focus on the health of the vital organs, like your heart. This isn't the case with the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet was introduced in 1993 by Oldways, Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization (WHO). Researchers at these institutions studied the diets of those living in the Mediterranean region of Europe (Greece, Italy and Spain), to determine why they had such a low occurrence of heart problems, especially when they ate as many fats as a typical Western diet. The question became what types of fats they were consuming.

The Mediterranean diet is a combination of basic health tips and the cooking style of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. A study conducted by the University of Cambridge involving more than 1.5 million healthy adults showed a reduced risk of death from a heart condition, longer overall life span, reduced risk from cancer and therefore death from cancer and a lower chance of developing  Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease.

The results of a five-year study were published Monday on The New England Journal of Medicine's website showed this diet can prevent about 30 percent of stokes, heart attacks and fatalities linked to heart disease. A total of 7,447 participants tried either the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet. These individuals were considered to be at high risk for heart disease and many were on prescription medications.

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid
Every diet has guidelines to follow for success and the creators of this diet recognized the power of a visual aid. This diet focuses on lean protein, whole grains and plenty of healthy fats like omega-3s. It's possible to think of the Mediterranean diet in the same way we did the recently revamped food pyramid:

  • The top of the pyramid contains red meats and sweets. You want to drastically limit the amount of these in your diet.
  • The second layer of the pyramid contains poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt. You want to eat moderate portions of these.
  • The third layer contains fish and seafood which you want to consume at least two times per week.
  • The bottom of the list contains fruits, vegetables, grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices. You want to make these the staple of most of your meals. Try to avoid candied, heavily salted or honey roasted nuts and eat as many whole grains as possible. Nuts and grains contain very few trans fats.

For those age 21 and older, moderate amounts of red wine is also recommended. Red Wine contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant which protects your heart and arteries. The recommended amount is no more than 5 oz (148 mL) of wine daily for women (or men over age 65) and no more than 10 oz (296 mL) of wine daily for men under age 65. If you don't consume alcohol, purple grape juice may be a considered an alternative to wine.

Changing your diet can be a challenge, no matter which plan your choose. If you don't want to make a full commitment to a new plan like the Mediterranean diet, here are some helpful tips you can add to your normal diet to better your heart health:

  • Try olive or canola oil as a healthy replacement for butter or margarine.
  • Keep almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts on hand for a quick snack.
  • Season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
  • Switch to skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.

The studies also noted that in order for the diet to be most effective, it's important to exercise regularly (which applies to any healthy diet/lifestyle). Don't begin any diet plan without first consulting your doctor, especially if you're currently being treated for a medical condition or have any diagnosed food allergies.

For more tips and a variety of products to enhance the health of your heart, explore eVitamins


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