Nourish Your Heart this Valentine’s Day with guidance from our team at Specialized Therapy Associates using our Heart Healthy Eating Plan
With Valentine’s day right around the corner, it’s a perfect time to talk about nourishing your heart! What better way to nourish your heart than following a heart-healthy Mediterranean-style eating plan? Now, I know what you’re thinking… a Mediterranean diet? That’s old news! We’ve heard time and time again on the news, from our doctors, magazines, and media outlets that a Mediterranean diet has extraordinary health benefits. However, in a world flooded with diet culture propaganda, the Mediterranean diet has seemingly withstood the test of time and experts agree that the research on its cardiovascular benefits and disease prevention is indisputable!
Has anyone ever broken down the reasoning behind why the Mediterranean diet is best for long-term health? What exactly it consists of? Who exactly it benefits? How it lowers your risk of chronic disease? When in life you should follow it? And where you can find quality ingredients and easy recipes to make following it easier? Well, you’re in the right place for some evidence-based, research-backed answers! Read on to learn more about how a heart-healthy Mediterranean-style eating plan could benefit you and your loved ones this Valentine’s season, and always.
Why the Mediterranean diet? Research shows that following a Mediterranean-style eating plan significantly reduces your risk for heart disease1, diabetes, cancer-related death, cardiovascular disease-related deaths, and death from any cause1,2. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the most widely circulated medical journals in the world, found that eating more foods consistent with a Mediterranean-style was associated with a 28% reduced risk in cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke3. The outcome was associated with less inflammation, better blood sugar levels, lower insulin resistance, and lower BMI3,4.
What does it consist of? The Mediterranean diet includes healthy fats in the form of monounsaturated fats from olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, avocados, and polyunsaturated omega-3 fats from fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and shellfish. The Mediterranean diet is rich in disease-fighting phytonutrients, or “plant nutrients”, and antioxidants from a diverse variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. It contains a moderate intake of dairy, chicken, cheese, and red wine, as well as very little intake of red meat and sweets, and little to no saturated fat, trans fat, and processed foods.
Who does the Mediterranean diet benefit? Although the Mediterranean diet is most well-known for its impact on disease prevention, it can benefit anybody regardless of age, race, sex, or gender.
Following a Mediterranean-style eating plan has also been shown to promote healthy aging. It has a beneficial effect on brain health and overall cognition6 by lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia7. In a Nurses’ Health Study, adherence to a Mediterranean diet resulted in a 46% higher chance of healthy aging, which was defined as being free from cancer, heart attack, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, Parkinson’s, MS, and more8.
How does the Mediterranean diet lower your risk for chronic disease? One of the many ways a Mediterranean diet promotes longevity is by preserving telomere length9, the portion of our chromosomes that preserve DNA from damage when exposed to negative factors such as chronic inflammation, environmental toxins, or psychological stress.
Another way the Mediterranean diet protects against disease is through its emphasis on healthy fat intake. A study found that people at high risk for heart disease who went on a Mediterranean diet with ≥ 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil or nuts had a 30% lower risk for stroke after 5-years compared to those who followed a low-fat diet. This is because consuming olive oil and nuts is associated with improved HDL-C function, commonly referred to as the “good cholesterol” because it carries cholesterol away from arteries and back to the liver for excretion or re-use10. This lowers the risk of arterial blockage and promotes healthy blood flow, resulting in a reduced risk for heart attack and stroke.
Where can you find quality ingredients? The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating a variety of plant foods to diversify your phytonutrient intake which gives your body a wide selection of disease-fighting nutrients! When optimizing the diversity of your plant food intake, it is best to consider purchasing whatever produce is in season. This way, you are sticking to the way our ancestors ate- whatever they could grow, which was dependent on the season.
For example, the wintertime is great for eating winter squash like acorn, butternut, pumpkin, delicata, kabocha, and spaghetti squash. Spring is a great time for asparagus, swiss chard, collard greens, apricots, mushrooms, onions, and artichokes. Summer is best for berries, corn, eggplant, watermelon, and peppers and Fall is best for apples, kale, carrots, celery, yams, pears, kale, and ginger. All of these foods are great ways to nourish your heart.
A great way to do this is to purchase from local farmers, farmer’s markets, or join your local Community Supported Agriculture program.
If you wish to Nourish Your Heart further by improving your physical and mental health please call 201-488-6678 today to speak with our intake staff. Together we can nourish your heart, mind, and soul so you can live your best life!
- Fung TT, Rexrode KM, Mantzoros CS, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Mediterranean diet and incidence of and mortality from coronary heart disease and stroke in women. Circulation. 2009 Mar 3;119(8):1093-100. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.816736. Epub 2009 Feb 16. Erratum in: Circulation. 2009 Mar 31;119(12):e379. PMID: 19221219; PMCID: PMC2724471.
- Lopez-Garcia E, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, Li TY, Fung TT, Li S, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Hu FB. The Mediterranean-style dietary plan and mortality among men and women with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jan;99(1):172-80. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.068106. Epub 2013 Oct 30. PMID: 24172306; PMCID: PMC3862454.
- Ahmad S, Moorthy MV, Demler OV, et al. Assessment of Risk Factors and Biomarkers Associated With Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Among Women Consuming a Mediterranean Diet. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(8):e185708. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5708
- Shai I, Schwarzfuchs D, Henkin Y, Shahar DR, Witkow S, Greenberg I, Golan R, et al. Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial (DIRECT) Group. Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. N Engl J Med. 2008 Jul 17;359(3):229-41. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0708681. Erratum in: N Engl J Med. 2009 Dec 31;361(27):2681. PMID: 18635428.
- De Lorgeril M, Salen P, Martin JL, Monjaud I, Delaye J, Mamelle N. Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation. 1999 Feb 16;99(6):779-85. doi: 10.1161/01.cir.99.6.779. PMID: 9989963.
- Loughrey DG, Lavecchia S, Brennan S, Lawlor BA, Kelly ME. The Impact of the Mediterranean Diet on the Cognitive Functioning of Healthy Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Adv Nutr. 2017 Jul 14;8(4):571-586. doi: 10.3945/an.117.015495. PMID: 28710144; PMCID: PMC5502874.
- Aridi YS, Walker JL, Wright ORL. The Association between the Mediterranean Dietary Plan and Cognitive Health: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 Jun 28;9(7):674. doi: 10.3390/nu9070674. PMID: 28657600; PMCID: PMC5537789.
- Samieri C, Sun Q, Townsend MK, Chiuve SE, Okereke OI, Willett WC, Stampfer M, Grodstein F. The association between dietary plans at midlife and health in aging: an observational study. Ann Intern Med. 2013 Nov 5;159(9):584-91. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-159-9-201311050-00004. PMID: 24189593; PMCID: PMC4193807.
- Crous-Bou M, Fung TT, Prescott J, Julin B, Du M, Sun Q, Rexrode KM, Hu FB, De Vivo I. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population-based cohort study. BMJ. 2014 Dec 2;349:g6674. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g6674. PMID: 25467028; PMCID: PMC4252824.
- Hernáez Á, Castañer O, Elosua R, et al. Mediterranean Diet Improves High-Density Lipoprotein Function in High-Cardiovascular-Risk Individuals: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Circulation. 2017;135(7):633-643. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.023712