Mediterranean Foods Can Improve Your Heart Health
By Paul Rothbart
Adventurous eaters love to try foods from other parts of the world. Each cuisine is unique with varying foods and spice palettes. One of the more popular is Mediterranean cuisine. This encompasses a huge area from Southern Europe to Western Asia to North Africa. Each nation within this area has its own take on food, but they do share many ingredients and spices. In the 1950s medical researchers noticed that heart disease was not as common in the Mediterranean region as it was in the United States. After decades of research, it was discovered that Mediterranean foods are indeed good for heart health.
The Base of Mediterranean Cuisine
Mediterranean dishes tend to not include red meat and sugars, both of which can be unhealthy and increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Proteins are usually fish, other seafood, or poultry, and dairy is only used on occasion. The base of this cuisine is plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Herbs and spices of various kinds also play an important role.
Using Healthy Fats
Typical American meals include lots of unhealthy fats such as butter, margarine, and foods deep fried in fats. These kinds of fat can raise bad cholesterol and diminish heart health, increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. Mediterranean cuisines use healthier sources of fat. Olive oil is a mainstay and contains monounsaturated fat which is healthy and can lower levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. Nuts and seeds also have monounsaturated fat.
Another source of healthy fat in Mediterranean food is fatty fish. Sardines, herring, mackerel, salmon, and albacore tuna are common proteins. These fish are rich in healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. These compounds fight inflammation and are very good for improving heart health. They can lower bad cholesterol, reduce blood clotting, and lessen the risk of heart attacks and stroke. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s are also good for brain health and can slow cognitive decline, lowering the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia.
How to Try It
If you would like to try the Mediterranean diet, here are some basics:
Include fish in at least two meals a week
Swap out butter in favor of olive oil for cooking meals
Use beans, vegetables, and whole grains as the foundation of meals
Skip the sweets and enjoy fresh fruit for dessert
Backed by research, the Mediterranean diet is better for heart health than the typical American meal plan. These foods are available in supermarkets. Give it a try to improve your health and perhaps lengthen your life.
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