The heart-friendly diet

The Mediterranean Diet has been part of a healthy lifestyle for generations, helping to prevent diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that following a Mediterranean Diet is associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

But the Mediterranean Diet is much more than just a diet. Preparing the meals and eating slowly while enjoying the company of family and friends are all part of the Mediterranean Diet “experience”. The importance given to mealtimes is part of the traditional Mediterranean way of life.

Ingredients used in any dish are mostly of vegetable rather than animal origin. Fresh, in season, unprocessed fruit and vegetables are part of the Mediterranean Diet. Our ancestors only used what they could grow and produce themselves, biologically, without the addition of chemicals.

Today it is not easy to grow our own vegetables as our ancestors did, but there are strategies that can be followed leading to a healthier lifestyle:

Eating more veggies and fruit: vegetables should make up the majority of your meal. Take pieces of fruit to work and eat between meals, or delight in raw carrots or tomatoes sprinkled with oregano for a quick, satisfying snack. Vegetable soups and salads mixed with small pieces of fresh fruit are also delicious.

Introduce whole grains, legumes and nuts: prefer brown bread, rice or pasta to the white varieties. Opt for a vegetable casserole with peas or lentils dressed with parsley, bay leaf, garlic, onions and olive oil for lunch, or a bean or chickpea salad with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and oregano for dinner. Take a small container with nuts to work for an in-between snack or a slice of whole-wheat bread with Tahini spread (blended sesame seeds) or natural peanut butter.

Reduce the intake of red meat: prefer fish and poultry and limit red meat to no more than a few times a month in small portions. Avoid hamburgers, sausages, bacon and other processed meats. Fatty fish (mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon) are rich sources of omega 3 and fatty-acids. They lower triglycerides, decrease blood clotting and are associated with decreased incidence of sudden heart attacks, improve the health of your blood vessels and help moderate blood pressure. Make a tuna fish salad or a salmon and pasta dish seasoned with a tomato and olive oil sauce;

Prefer olive oil: to dress and prepare meals, cook colourful vegetables using olive oil and garlic. Add to oven-baked fish dishes or use it as bread spread instead of butter or margarine. Choose low-fat dairy products (yoghurt, milk, and cheese). Keep cream, ice cream and other high-fat dairy products for special occasions.

Use herbs and spices for seasoning instead of salt: garlic, onion, coriander, parsley, mint, oregano, rosemary, lemon juice and bay leafs all provide flavour to vegetable casseroles or oven-baked fish dishes. Avoid stock cubes. Liquidise tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables to make healthy sauces. Soups, fish stews and lots of legumes and vegetables with a reduced quantity of pressure cooked meat promote satiety and a better use of all nutrients.

Prefer water as a daily drink and a glass of red wine with meals: avoid sugar-rich drinks or juices and drink at least eight cups of water a day to guarantee hydration. A glass of red wine is an excellent anti-oxidant if consumed with moderation during a meal. It promotes the prevention of heart disease (one glass 150ml a day for healthy women and two maximum a day for healthy men).

Stay active: at least 40 minutes a day will contribute to good health. Walking, swimming, using stairs instead of the lift, play in the garden with the children, gardening – plant herbs in your garden which you can then use for cooking.

|| A Mediterranean Summer Menu

▪ Whole-wheat bread with olive oil and a slice of tomato
▪ Strawberries
▪ Tea or coffee

Mid-morning snack:
▪ Small quantity of lupine seeds (previously washed to remove salt and seasoned with parsley and garlic)

▪ Grilled sardines + broad beans cooked in water with little salt and lots of mint leaves, dressed with olive oil + lettuce salad sprinkled with oregano and seeds (sesame, pumpkin, sunflower).
▪ Fresh fruit salad (orange, banana, melon, peach, strawberries)

▪ Mixed muesli with nuts + natural yogurt

▪ Cold Mediterranean Soup – In a large salad bowl finely chop: tomatoes, garlic, onion, cucumber, pepper and bread from the day before. Add olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, lots of cold water and ice cubes.
▪ Fresh figs

▪ Low fat cottage cheese and a few nuts

Enjoy it!

Marina Augusto Estevão
|| [email protected]

Marina Augusto Estevão is a dietician at the Hospital Particular do Algarve Group