By Jordan Chen, registered dietitian
February is a month where we not only tend to our hearts in the name of St. Valentine, but also tend to our hearts to decrease our chances of the onset of heart disease.
There are some risk factors that we can’t change such as our family history or age. However, we can always adjust lifestyle to be more heart healthy. In recognition of American Heart Month, we will discuss one of the most heart healthy diets there is: the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet is based off of the traditional eating patterns of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea in the 1960s. The diet consists of:
Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
Moderate portions of dairy
Limited intake of red meat
Other important components of the Mediterranean diet include daily exercise, eating with others, and enjoying a glass of red wine.
This mostly-plant based diet has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke, likely due to its composition being high in fiber and unsaturated fats, and low in added sugars, saturates and trans fats, and processed carbohydrates.
Here are some tips for those who are just getting started trying to incorporate a Mediterranean style diet in your life:
Focus on whole foods
When buying food for your home, try to buy ingredients that are closer to their natural state. For example, fresh sticks of carrots or celery would be a better option in comparison to “Veggie Straws.” Also, a handful of nuts would be a healthier option compared to a processed granola bar.
Fruits and veggies are a must
Ideally, we should be consuming at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Only 1 in 10 Americans reach this goal, so this is an area we all can improve on (not just for heart health, but our health in general!)
Try serving a fruit or vegetable as a side dish for at least one meal throughout the day. Also, try cutting up pieces of fruits and vegetables and ahead of time so they are an easy-to-grab snack.
Cut back on added sugar
Added sugar is found in many consumer products. Added sugar also has many different names, including brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrates and more. Added sugars should be limited to no more than 9 tsp per day (36 grams) for men and 6 tsp per day (25 grams) for women.
Other diets to consider
Some other diets that also deserve to be mentioned for their heart health properties include the DASH diet and USDA's MyPlate. All of these diets have similarities, which include being high in vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and lean proteins. These diets are also low in added sugars and highly processed foods.
Take a moment to start thinking about your heart health now. Even small changes make a difference in your long term health goals.
To discuss nutritional goals with Registered Dietitian Jordan Chen, please contact us to set up a consultation.