Who here loves Mediterranean cuisine? We do and it’s no wonder. Not only is a Mediterranean diet good for the taste buds, it’s also good for your body—in many more ways than you know. And although you may want to, you don’t have to fly back to the Greek Islands to get it.
Mediterranean food has gotten a lot of attention recently for its potential impact on cardiovascular health and new research shows that eating it regularly may correlate to a longer life.
Mediterranean diet is a catchall phrase for cuisine found in Mediterranean countries; the diet generally features lots of fish and non-red meat sources, extra-virgin olive oil and plenty of fruit and vegetables, with additional flavour coming from herbs and spices, not salt.
There are components of the Mediterranean diet that are good for the vascular system, such as eating whole grains, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry and fish, and focusing on non-animal sources of protein.
What you need to know is that Mediterranean food has less salt, more flavour. The sodium in salt contributes to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for artery disease. High blood pressure causes blood to pump harder through the vessels, which stresses and weakens them. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg of sodium per day as an ideal goal, and no more than 2,300 mg.
Since we have veins and arteries throughout the body, vascular disease ranges from vein disorders in the legs, poor circulation in the feet, abdominal aortic ruptures and renal or carotid problems. Most common is hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), which causes stroke, heart attack, peripheral arterial disease and many other circulatory problems.
Around the world, other diets similar to the Mediterranean diet have also been associated with better vascular health and reduced deaths from cardiovascular issues.
Here’s what they all have in common.
10 Ways to Eat the Mediterranean Diet So You Live Longer
TIP 1 – LOSE THE SALT
Cut back on salt; perk up flavour with herbs, spices, garlic, onions, vinegars, lemon juice and other favourite flavourings. Seasonings popular in Mediterranean cooking are basil, chilies, cloves, cumin, fennel, garlic, marjoram, oregano, pepper, rosemary, sage, savoury, tarragon and thyme.
TIP 2 – GO FISHY
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week. Other high omega 3 fish choices: cold-water varieties like tuna, trout, sardines and herring.
TIP 3 – DROP FAT
If you like beef and pork, choose lean cuts, only occasionally and keep portion sizes moderate. Avoid lamb and poultry with skin. These are all high in saturated fats, which contains dietary cholesterol that can build up in the arteries. Researchers are still looking at the causes and effects of eating red meats, but until scientists have definitive answers, moderation is best.
TIP 4 – THINK PLANTS
Get protein from beans, legumes and nuts. Plant-based proteins are filling and healthful; think minestrone soup with beans or quinoa with pine nuts.
TIP 5 – GO GRAINY
Eat more whole grains. Whole grains found in Mediterranean cooking include barley, oats, polenta, rice and couscous. Whole grains have soluble and insoluble fiber, which can help improve blood cholesterol levels by preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Whole grains also are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
TIP 6 – BE UNREFINED
Avoid highly refined white bread, such as that in garlic bread, and white flour pasta.
TIP 7 – GET FRUITY
Make fruits and vegetables a staple. In Mediterranean cuisine, a rainbow of vegetables and fruits are used in abundance. Not only do fruits and vegetables add vitamins and fiber to the diet, another new study has found that eating three or more servings per day is associated with a significant decrease in developing peripheral artery disease (PAD) and the foods are also associated with fewer heart attacks and strokes.
TIP 8 – FEEL FRESH
Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables are better than canned. Avoid adding extra salt or sugar for maximum benefit.
TIP 9 – CHOOSE OIL
Use extra-virgin olive oil in place of other fats. Olive oil, which contains monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), may have important health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, MUFAs may lower bad cholesterol and improve the function of blood vessels. They also may help with insulin and blood sugar control, which is good for diabetics.
TIP 10 – DON’T SPREAD
Avoid trans fats, such as those in margarine and some commercial baked goods, as they contribute to artery disease.
The Society for Vascular Surgery® (SVS) is a not-for-profit professional medical society that seeks to advance excellence and innovation in vascular health through education, advocacy, research and public awareness.