Our heart health is closely linked to our lifestyle. Poor eating choices, lack of physical activities, and unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are just some of the most common reasons why millions of people all over the world are diagnosed with heart-related diseases.
Statistics have shown that the number of deaths related to heart problems is higher in the United States and countries in northern Europe. On the other hand, countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Spain, Italy, and France, have lower incidences of heart attacks, and there is a good reason behind it. These countries follow or rather ‘live’ what health experts call the Mediterranean diet.
Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health
The Mediterranean diet consists of traditionally-prepared Mediterranean dishes that are rich in olive oil, fish, beans, high-fiber bread, and whole wheat along with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. It also includes drinking but not over-indulging in wine.
Consumption of red meat, dairy, and sweets is limited. But more than eating, the Mediterranean diet is a way of life. It involves being physically active, spending a lot of time outdoors, and being with loved ones often.
Almost everything that the Mediterranean diet espouses is considered by doctors as a recipe for good heart health – a healthy diet, exercise, and less stress can largely contribute to lowering health risks, particularly cardiovascular diseases.
There are several benefits of following a Mediterranean diet. At the core of Mediterranean cuisine are a variety of dishes that contain monosaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which have been proven to lower levels of the “bad” cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein while also increasing levels of healthy cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein. Fish such as herring and tuna, cooked in olive oil, are commonly found in the Mediterranean diet.
Having a high-fiber diet that consists of whole wheat is also linked to having lower cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber, which is found in beans, oats, and whole-grain foods, is proven to be beneficial to the heart, as these foods can reduce the absorption of the bad LDL cholesterol by the body. When cholesterol absorption is low, blood pressure and cholesterol levels are lower, as well.
Staples of a Mediterranean Diet Improve Heart Health
The Mediterranean diet almost always includes vegetables, fruit, and salads as side dishes to complement the meals. Vegetables, particularly those that are found in Mediterranean countries, like eggplants, legumes, and lentils, are a key player in improving heart health.
These are rich in vitamins and nutrients, do not contain any fat, and are low in calories. The same goes for fruits found in the Mediterranean regions, such as grapes, dates, figs, and apricots, which are essential to a healthy diet that is good for the heart.
Apart from healthy foods, one unique aspect of the Mediterranean diet is consuming a healthy amount of wine. While generally, drinking alcohol is not advised to people wanting to improve their health, wine might very well be an exception to the rule. Red wine has long been thought of as good for the heart, as long as it is consumed in moderation.
Vino Rosso, as the Italians call it, contains antioxidants called polyphenols that can help regulate cholesterol. Since wine is made from grapes, it also contains resveratrol that comes from the fruit. Resveratrol has been proven to help prevent damage to blood vessels. Limit wine intake to at least one or two glasses a day to go with your healthy meals.
Mediterranean Lifestyle Strengthens The Heart
The Mediterranean diet also advocates movement and spending time outdoors. Physical activities can help strengthen the heart and reduce the risk of heart disease. Walking, strolling, or simply spending time outdoors is also a great way to improve your overall health.
Part of the Mediterranean diet approach is also spending time with family and friends, and who wouldn’t love to be with some good company? As many say, laughter is still the best medicine!
Following a healthy diet, whether the Mediterranean diet or otherwise, is always beneficial not just to our heart but to the rest of the body. A nutritional diet that consists of a good balance between lean meat, vegetables, and fruit, coupled with a healthy and active lifestyle, is essential to our overall health and wellness.