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The Mediterranean Diet mediterranean_diet_foods

The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that reduces heart disease and type 2 diabetes risks.  Learn how to change your unhealthy American Style diet to a heart healthy Mediterranean Style diet from the nutrition and health experts at Muscle Mag Fitness without having to pack up and leave the country.

The Mediterranean diet comes from countries like Italy and Greece. It's high in foods that provide health benefits like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and olive oil. It also includes low amounts of meat, dairy and saturated fats, trans fatty acids and moderate alcohol consumption.  

Key components of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Eating a generous amount of fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Eating small portions of nuts
  • Drinking red wine, in moderation, for some
  • Consuming very little red meat
  • Eating fish on a regular basis

Fruits, vegetables and grains

The traditional diet among some Mediterranean countries includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice. For example, residents of Greece eat very little red meat and average nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. This eating pattern has been associated with a lower level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation — a change in LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) that makes it more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.

Grains in the Mediterranean region typically contain very few unhealthy trans fats, and bread is an important part of the diet there. However, throughout the Mediterranean region, bread is eaten without butter or margarines, which contain saturated  fat or trans fats.

Healthy fats

The Mediterranean diet doesn't view all  fat as bad. The focus of the diet isn't to limit total  fat consumption, but to make wise choices about the types of fat you eat.

The Mediterranean diet is similar to the American Heart Association's Step I diet, but it contains less cholesterol and has more fats that contain the beneficial linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acids). These fat sources include olive oil, canola oil and nuts, particularly walnuts. Fish — another source of omega-3 fatty acids — is eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and may provide an anti-inflammatory effect helping to stabilize the blood vessel lining. The Mediterranean diet discourages saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans fatty acids), both of which contribute to heart disease.

Choosing oils and fats

Olive oil. All types of olive oil provide monounsaturated fat, but "extra-virgin" or "virgin" oil are the least processed forms, and so contain the highest levels of the protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.

Nuts. Nuts are high in fat — up to 80 percent of their calories — but tree nuts, including walnuts, pecans, almonds and hazel nuts, are low in saturated fat. Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts are high in calories, so they should not be eaten in large amounts — generally no more than a handful a day. For the best nutrition, avoid honey-roasted or heavily salted nuts.

Wine

Studies show that light intake of alcohol (preferably red wine) is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, even when they follow a diet high in saturated fat. Red wine has an aspirin-like effect, reducing the blood's ability to clot, and also contains antioxidants, and studies show it may also lower blood sugar and be an aid to those suffering from type 2 diabetes.

The Mediterranean diet typically includes some red wine, but this should be consumed only in moderation. This means no more than one 5-ounce glass of wine daily for women (or men over age 65), and no more than two 5-ounce glasses of wine daily for men under age 65. Any more than this increases the risk of health problems, including increased risk of certain types of cancer.

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean eating style significantly reduces the risk of further heart disease in individuals who had already had a heart attack. Studies also show that the Mediterranean diet reduced metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that puts people at a much higher risk for heart disease and  type 2 diabetes, including its complications. later in life like obesity, fat buildup in the arteries, high blood pressure, obesity, and glucose or blood sugar intolerance.

People on the Mediterranean diet had significant decreases in metabolic syndrome symptoms and risk factors and improvements in good cholesterol compared to those who weren't on the diet. There was also evidence that the healthier eaters suffered less from the inflammation of cells that may contribute to the risk of disease.  

Implementation

You can successfully incorporate the Mediterranean diet into your life by being an informed consumer and a smart shopper. Choose plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, limit intake of red meat, eat fish — not fried or laden with butter or heavy sauces — at least once a week, don't be afraid of healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and canola oil (but use these in moderation because of their high calorie content), and reduce or eliminate saturated fat and trans fatty acids (also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) from your diet. Read food labels to see what you're really buying. Here are some specific steps you can take:
  • Eat a variety of whole fruits and vegetables every day. Ultimately, strive for seven to 10 servings a day. Keep baby carrots, apples and bananas on hand for quick, satisfying snacks. Fruit salads are a wonderful way to eat a variety of healthy — and tasty — fruit.
  • Avoid sausage, bacon and other high-fat meats.
  • Eat fish once or twice a week. Water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices.
  • Avoid fried fish, unless it's sauteed in a small amount of olive oil.
  • Substitute fish and poultry for red meat.
  • Use canola or olive oil in cooking. Try olive oil for salad dressing and as a healthy replacement for butter or margarine. After cooking pasta, add a touch of olive oil, some garlic and green onions for flavoring. Dip bread in flavored olive oil or lightly spread it on whole-grain bread for a tasty alternative to butter.
  • Eat natural peanut butter, rather than the kind with hydrogenated fat added.
  • Use butter sparingly, and don't think that "low fat" or "cholesterol-free" on the label means a product is necessarily good for you. Many of these items are made with trans fats.
  • Limit higher fat dairy products such as whole or 2% milk, cheese and ice cream.
  • Switch to skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
  • Avoid fried foods.
  • Consider healthy snacks such as: walnuts, almonds, pecans and Brazil nuts on hand for a quick snack.
  • If it's OK with your doctor, go ahead and have a glass of red wine at dinner with your pasta or fish. If you don't drink alcohol, you don't need to start.
 
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