The AHA recommends that “individuals consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grain products, especially whole grains; choose fat-free and low-fat dairy products, legumes, poultry, and lean meats; and eat fish, preferably oily fish, at least twice a week.”
This sounds similar to the Mediterranean Diet that has been shown to be one of the best eating habits to lose weight and stay healthy. What is the Mediterranean Diet? First, think of the cuisine of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece so there is not one standard diet. And it’s not pizza and pasta from Italy of lamb chops from Greece. But they all have these things in common:
- Emphasis on the region’s fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes.
- Includes low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils (olive oil!) and nuts; and
- Limits added sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats.
There is some evidence that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may help the body remove excess cholesterol from arteries and keep blood vessels open.
Changing your eating habits doesn’t have to be hard. Making small, simple changes to your overall eating pattern can help you stay healthy. Pick one from the recommendations below and when that gets easy, add another one.
Eat lots of vegetables. Try a simple plate of sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese, or load your thin crust pizza with peppers and mushrooms instead of sausage and pepperoni. Salads, soups, and crudité platters are also great ways to load up on vegetables.
Always eat breakfast. Fruit, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods are a great way to start your day, keeping you pleasantly full for hours.
Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, salmon, herring, sablefish (black cod), and sardines are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish like mussels, oysters, and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.
Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week. If it’s helpful, you can jump on the “Meatless Mondays” trend of foregoing meat on the first day of the week, or simply pick a day where you build meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Once you get the hang of it, try two nights a week.
Enjoy dairy products in moderation. The USDA recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 10% of your daily calories (about 200 calories for most people). That still allows you to enjoy dairy products such as natural (unprocessed) cheese, Greek or plain yogurt.
For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Instead of ice cream, cake or other baked goods, opt for strawberries, fresh figs, grapes, or apples.
Use good fats. Extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados are great sources of healthy fats for your daily meals.
The real Mediterranean diet is about more than just eating fresh, wholesome food. Daily physical activity and sharing meals with others are vital elements of the Mediterranean Diet. Together, they can have a profound effect on your mood and mental health. Now that sounds heart healthy!