Mother’s Day Special: Mediterranean Diet in 8 Simple Steps

Mediterranean Diet Food PyramidCelebrate Mother’s Day (and National Mediterranean Diet Month) with delicious meals made with love, that love mom back!

Do it because more women need to take care of their heart health. In fact, more women than men have died of heart disease each year since 1984, and it’s still the number one cause of death among both men and women in the U.S. and around the globe.

Great news: It’s largely preventable. A heart-healthy diet is a good place to start.

Don’t know what a heart-healthy diet is? You might be surprised to learn that the basics of a heart-healthy diet fall right in line with the same recommendations health experts have for most Americans (plenty of vegetables, whole grains, seafood, fruit, lean protein, and healthy fats).

While it is indeed a therapeutic diet, as far as special diets go, it’s one of the least restrictive ones out there.

Based on a 2000-calorie diet, the basics include:

  • 4 to 5 servings of vegetables and fruits
  • 6 to 8 servings of grains — at least half of them whole grains
  • Fish twice a week
  • Limited saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars and salt
  • Low to moderate alcohol consumption, if at all

For a more holistic look at how to make those recommendations an everyday way of eating, look no further than the Mediterranean diet for one research-backed way to pull it all together.

Mediterranean Diet in 8 Simple Steps

Researchers found lower rates of heart disease in Mediterranean countries compared to Americans, so they went about looking at differences in what we eat.

The large-scale Nurses Health Study of 74,886 women found that as diets got closer to an ideal Mediterranean diet, heart disease risk went down by up to 30%.

The Lyon Heart Study included over 600 heart attack patients, and those who ate the Mediterranean diet were 70% less likely to suffer another one.

To get the best information on the Mediterranean diet, I talked to our friends at Oldways, a respected non-profit best known for introducing the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, in partnership with Harvard School of Public Health.

They provided eight simple steps to good health:

1. Eat lots of vegetables.
There are so many choices! From a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and topped with crumbled feta cheese to stunning salads, garlicky greens, fragrant soups and stews, healthy pizzas, or oven-roasted medleys, vegetables are vitally important to the fresh tastes and delicious flavors of the Med Diet. Can you fill half your plate with them at lunch and dinner?

2. Change the way you think about meat.
If you eat meat, have smaller amounts. For example, add small strips of sirloin to a vegetable sauté, or garnish a dish of pasta with diced prosciutto. As a main course, have smaller portions (3 ounces or less) of chicken or lean meat.

3. Always eat breakfast.
Start your day with fiber-rich foods such as fruit and whole grains that can keep you feeling pleasantly full for hours. Layer granola, yogurt, and fruit, or mash half an avocado with a fork and spread it on a slice of whole-grain toast.

4. Eat seafood twice a week.
Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon, and sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish including mussels, oysters, and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.

5. Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week.
Build these meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables, and heighten the flavor with fragrant herbs and spices. When one night feels comfortable, try two nights per week.

6. Use good fats.
Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados.

7. Enjoy some dairy products.
Eat Greek or plain yogurt, and try small amounts of a variety of cheeses.

8. For dessert, eat fresh fruit.
Choose from a wide range of delicious fresh fruits — from fresh figs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Instead of daily ice cream or cookies, save sweets for a special treat or celebration.