Protecting your heart with the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet has long been celebrated as one of the healthiest diets in the world, but it’s not only a diet, it’s a lifestyle change that can actually add years to your life.

Research continues to prove that a diet rich in plant foods and healthy fats protects against the development of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, metabolic syndrome, types of cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. And overall, eating a Mediterranean diet leads to a longer life span.

A 2011 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology analyzed the results of 50 studies covering about 535,000 people to examine the effects of a Mediterranean diet on metabolic syndrome and found those who ate it had lower blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides.

The Mediterranean diet is inspired by traditional dietary patterns of residents along the Mediterranean coast. Places such as southern Italy, Greece and Spain have greatly influenced the dietary components.

The core aspects of the diet include nuts, whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, unrefined cereals, high consumption of legumes, moderate to high consumption of fish, moderate consumption of cheese and yogurt and occasional consumption of wine. Limiting red meat to a few times a month is also recommended.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants which protect us from free radicals – chemicals that play a role in the development of cancer. Flavenoids in red wine also have powerful antioxidant properties and contribute to good health. Nuts are high in monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid, which has been associated with a reduction in coronary heart disease risk. For optimum benefit, honey-roasted or heavily salted nuts should be avoided.

Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and has been shown to play a role in lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). There is also evidence that antioxidants in olive oil have anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects. Whole grains, another important part of the diet, contain little unhealthy trans fats, and are often eaten with olive oil.

Exercising and enjoying food with family and friends is also emphasized when adopting the Mediterranean diet.