In 1990, UNESCO declared the Mediterranean diet to be part of the intangible cultural history of Spain, Greece, Italy, and Morocco. This diet includes olive oil as the principal source of fat, low consumption of meat and meat products, moderate consumption of poultry, dairy products and wine, and high consumption of fruits, vegetables, fish, unrefined cereals, and legumes.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the caloric intake of a heart-healthy diet should include no more than 7% of calories from saturated fat and no more than 200mg of cholesterol per day. Reducing your intake of solid fats, like butter, margarine, and shortening is a good way to limit your intake of saturated, cholesterol, and trans fats.
Best Foods to Eat
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The main fat source in the Mediterranean diet is extra virgin olive oil, a monounsaturated fat and a much healthier option than solid fats. Monounsaturated fats could decrease LDL levels, which is an important step in boosting your heart health. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed form, which provides the highest level of positive antioxidant effects.
Olives contain vitamin E, polyphenols and flavonoids which are all anti-inflammatory agents. They protect against free radical damage and are a critical part of the Mediterranean diet menu.
Another source of fat in the Mediterranean diet is nuts. Though nuts are high in fat and calories and should be consumed in moderation, most of the fat is not saturated and therefore they serve as a heart-healthy fat source in addition to olive oil. Nuts could improve cholesterol in addition to containing a good amount of fiber. Nuts also contain arginine, a compound that could improve the health of your blood vessels.
Heart Healthy Proteins
Fat and cholesterol intake is also limited in the Mediterranean diet because heart-healthy protein sources like fish, poultry and legumes are consumed more often than red meats and egg yolks. In fact, legumes like peas, lentils and beans contain protein but no cholesterol and very little fat. Cold water fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring contain omega-3 fatty acids which could improve the triglyceride levels in the blood.
Fruits and Veggies
The consumption of at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day is another important part of the Mediterranean diet. Fruits and vegetables are high in dietary fiber, which could improve heart health. Orange juice contains vitamin C and antioxidants, orange juice is a super drink. Garlic could have a positive influence on blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. It also makes food more flavorful which decreases the need for salt. Berries are rich in polyphenols.
Similarly whole grains are also high in fiber and form part of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet as well.
Moderate consumption of red wine is permitted in the Mediterranean diet. Red wine contains antioxidant flavonoid phenolics and resveratrol, which could be heart healthy.
Hot Cocoa and dark chocolate are full of antioxidants, more than red wine or even green tea. Stay away from milk chocolates or cocoa mixes and go for the dark chocolate bars and cocoa made from scratch.
By decreasing intake of trans and saturated fats as well as salt, limiting cholesterol intake, and increasing fiber, omega-3, monounsaturated fats, and low-fat proteins, the Mediterranean diet could boost your heart health.
Sample Diet Menu
Below is a sample of typical diet for people who want to boost their heart health.
- Breakfast: Lowfat yogurt topped with berries. Oatmeal topped with slivered almonds. A banana. Orange juice.
- Lunch: Salad greens with turkey, assorted vegetables and garlic vinaigrette.
- Snack: Handful of unsalted nuts, a peach and 2 squares of dark chocolate.
- Dinner: Salmon cooked with dill and lemon, served on a bed of brown rice. Kale, spinach and mushroom stir fry. Red wine.
- Dessert: Fruit tossed with honey and a squeeze of lemon. Hot cocoa.