Kevin Huang, Bsc Pharm Candidate
We hear about it all the time. It might be the latest news from your friendly health guru or a simple recommendation from your healthcare provider. Lately, Mediterranean diet has gained traction and for good reasons. There is an overwhelming number of evidence supporting its benefit, especially in reducing your risk for diabetes, stroke, and many heart diseases.1,2,3
While these benefits seem clear enough to modify our diet, I think many of us can relate to how terrifying it can be to start a new diet. Changes aren’t easy, especially when it comes to food. It can be discouraging when thinking about the potential cost associated with it or the challenges of fitting it into your lifestyle.
But what if we tell you that it’s not as difficult as it seems? Being aware of the core principles may help you start approaching the diet differently. Understanding why these foods work rather than what kinds of food work may help you see how flexible the diet can be. With these few pointers, you will be on your way to achieving better heart health.
It’s All about the Fats
To fully appreciate Mediterranean diet, we need to understand why it works in the first place. To start, let’s talk about fats. Nutritional fat falls into two categories, ones which help the heart (e.g. omega 3) and ones which propagates cardiovascular diseases (e.g. saturated fat). In other words, the good and the bad.
- The Bad: Saturated and hydrogenated fats are known for its negative effects on the blood vessels. When accumulated, they can form plaques which can hinder the blood flow and damage the heart system. When untreated, it can lead to many negative health outcomes, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, and even strokes.3 This is why we should avoid fatty foods such as bacon, sausage, and processed meat.
- The Good: These, on the other hands, are fats that can help with your heart health. Omega 3 is an example of a good fat because it helps prevent plaque formation to keep your blood vessels clear. It can can be found in olive oil, salmon and spinach.
What about the Carbs?
Carbohydrates play an important part in our everyday diet. Since they provide most of the energy we need to start our day, we require a large amount in our diets. However, did you know there are different types of carbs, some of which may be better than others?
Recommended by the Mediterranean guidelines are whole grains which are concentrated with fibre, vitamins, and trace minerals – essential for the body’s growth. These are found in the coatings of the grains, called the “germs” and “bran.” This is why whole grains are preferred over white grains. During the milling process, these coatings are removed to produce white grains, stripping the majority of the nutritional contents from the grain. Therefore, it’s recommended that you consume whole grain foods whether it be a pasta, cereal or toast.
Take Home Message
Mediterranean diet is all about finding the right balance.
The next time you go for groceries, look for fresh leafy greens and locally farmed fruits to obtain fibre, minerals and vitamins in your diet.3,4
While you are at it, grab some spices and herbs. It’ll help increase the flavour of your food and reduce the amount of salt needed for seasoning. Minimizing salt intake to less than 2g a day will help improve your blood pressure.3,4
When cooking, consider using olive oil instead of butter. This omega-3 rich oil will help you avoid plaque formation and minimize your risk for heart diseases.3,4
Try to avoid foods like bacon, sausage and processed meat which have high “bad fat” content. Rather, aim for foods with protein such as lean meat, omega-3 rich fish (salmon, herring, trouts), nuts, and legumes.3,4
Believe it or not, the occasional wine is part of the diet. Wine is known for its antioxidant properties which help prevent damage to our cells. However, moderation is key! No more than 1-2 glasses/day for men and 1 glass/day for women are recommended. However, pregnant women should avoid drinking due to its negative effects on the child’s growth.3,4
Lastly, aim for 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise each week. Exercise is key to good health.5 Of course, based on your level of comfort, slowly increase the amount of exercise you get in a week, so you don’t injure yourself.
We hope that you can apply these tips to your diet. Remember, you don’t have to change everything overnight. You can modify your diet one step at a time and work your way up. Starting a new diet can be hard, but don’t forget that you have a support system around you. If you need help getting started, always feel free to talk to your healthcare provider!
As always, we hope you took away something valuable from this piece. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article or others, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook, or at email@example.com with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.
1. Willett, W. C. (2006). The Mediterranean diet: Science and practice. Public Health Nutrition, 9(1a). doi:10.1079/phn2005931
2. Menotti, A. (1999). Cross cultural relationship of dietary habits and coronary heart disease in the seven countries study. Atherosclerosis, 144, 169. doi:10.1016/s0021-9150(99)80645-5
3. Shen, J., Wilmot, K. A., Ghasemzadeh, N., Molloy, D. L., Burkman, G., Mekonnen, G., . . . Sperling, L. S. (2015). Mediterranean Dietary Patterns and Cardiovascular Health. Annual Review of Nutrition, 35(1), 425-449. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-011215-025104
4. Curtis, B. M., & Okeefe, J. H. (2002). Understanding the Mediterranean diet. Postgraduate Medicine, 112(2), 35-45. doi:10.3810/pgm.2002.08.1281
5. NICE 2014 Clinical Guidelines for primary and secondary preventions of cardiovascular diseases: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/CG181
6. Mediterranean Diet. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2018, from https://oldwayspt.org/traditional-diets/mediterranean-diet
7. Dynamed Plus