Prevent Heart Disease the Mediterranean Way
Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, remain one of the top causes of death in Canada despite advances in drugs, tests and procedures… and is largely preventable! Through your daily food choices, you may be eating your way toward or away from having a heart attack, and the science even says so.
A large randomized controlled trial, the gold standard in evidenced-based medicine, which included 7447 participants age 55 to 80 years, demonstrated that the Mediterranean diet significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30% in those at high risk, compared to those on the often prescribed low-fat diet. This outcome is similar to that of cholesterol lowering medications such as statins, but without the potential side-effects and risks such as diabetes with long-term use. This study also demonstrated reduced risk of atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disturbance, as well as a significant reduction in diabetes and a reversal of metabolic syndrome. Now that is one powerful dietary approach! But the benefits don’t stop there, the Mediterranean diet also reduces risk of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other chronic conditions.
Now let’s break it down…
The components of the Mediterranean diet work in a number of different ways to not only reduce your risk of heart disease but also your chances of having another heart attack or stroke. The healthy fats and antioxidants that are abundant in this diet help to decrease inflammation, reduce oxidized LDL which is a key player in the process of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), improves the proper functioning of the arteries of the heart, reduces insulin resistance, and even modifies genetic risk.
When we hear the word ‘diet’ we often think of a very restricted way of eating that can only be sustained for a finite period of time. But I like to think of the Mediterranean diet as more of a lifestyle. It tastes delicious, without even counting calories you can lose weight and it incorporates other health promoting components besides food such as regular physical activity and connecting with others...while drinking your red wine, in moderation of course. Surrounding ourselves with people we care about helps to protect us against the health effects of stress and protects against depression and heart disease. Engaging in conversation with family at the dinner table rather than being distracted by technology, can help to reduce the amount of calories we consume. We also tend to eat slower and as a result we are more aware of when we feel full.
The Mediterranean lifestyle, includes a predominantly plant-based approach. This is the cornerstone for any disease prevention strategy. Only small amounts of animal products are consumed on a daily or even weekly basis. This way of eating provides you with an abundance of vitamins and minerals, protein, antioxidants, and fibre, and is low in saturated fats helping to combat inflammation, lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar. Aiming for at least 7 servings of fruits and veggies daily is key to preventing any disease and feeling great. Although fruit can make a healthy snack, it is important to remember that it is high in sugar, so limit your fruit intake to about 2 servings/day and choose fruits lower in sugar such as apples and berries. Nuts that I strongly recommend are walnuts and almonds. Remember that nuts are high in calories so you only need to consume 1-2 small handfuls daily to get the health benefits, and make sure they are raw and unsalted. Legumes and beans make a great option for a meatless meal. Try this Apple Walnut Lentil Loaf for a vegetarian dinner night.
The Mediterranean lifestyle also emphasizes healthy fats, especially mono-unsaturated fat found in olive oil, as well as poly-unsaturated fats from nuts, seeds and fish. While our bodies require both omega 3 and 6, a diet that is higher in omega 3 vs omega 6 is health promoting while a diet that predominantly includes sources of omega 6 from animal products and processed foods, typical of the standard western diet, greatly increases your risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.
The more key components that are introduced into your daily diet will have the biggest impact on your overall health and will lower your risk of having a heart attack. Next time you go shopping, take this list with you and start incorporating the Mediterranean way into your day!
Not sure where to start? Need some help to keep you on track? Book an appointment now or complimentary consultation to find out how I can help you keep your heart healthy and strong.
De Lorgeril, M, Salen, P. 2006. The Mediterranean diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Clin Invest Med 29(3):154-8.
Harper CR, Jacobson TA. 2003. Beyond the Mediterranean diet: the role of omega-3 Fatty acids in the prevention of coronary heart disease. Prev Cardiol. 6(3):136-46.
Willett, WC. 2006. The Mediterranean diet: science and practice. Public Health Nutr 9(1A):105-10.