By Barbara Boules –
Cardiovascular disease, which encompasses coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure and high blood pressure, is currently our nation’s leading cause of death. Hypertension, in particular, is on the rise, affecting more than 100 million Americans. Guidelines for what constitutes high blood pressure were recently revised from the previous definition of 140/90 to 130/80, which means that 46% of U.S, citizens are now classified as hypertensive.
The American Heart Association advocates what they call “Life’s Simple 7” to reduce our risk. This includes not smoking, getting ample physical activity, eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy body weight and keeping control of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Fortunately, most forms of cardiovascular disease are preventable or respond extremely well to healthy lifestyle changes.
In January, U.S. News And World Report listed the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) as the world’s healthiest diet. The good news about this is that DASH is essentially the Mediterranean approach to eating well, which is not a diet at all, but rather a lifestyle that includes an abundance of delicious, nutritious foods.
The Mediterranean philosophy is simply the way people have traditionally eaten along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, emphasizing plant-based foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, plus seafood and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil. Moderate amounts of yogurt and cheese are incorporated. Meats and added sugars are limited. Recipes are pure, simple and full of flavor – perhaps broccoli sautéed in olive oil and garlic with grilled salmon on a bed of herbed brown rice. The difference between the standard Mediterranean diet and DASH is simply an awareness about sodium intake (no more than 2300mg/day) and reduced-fat dairy.
The beauty of the Mediterranean and DASH approaches is that they are the only “diets” backed by decades of research including thousands of studies which come to positive conclusions concerning heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and cancer.
The MIND diet (Mediterranean/DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), was designed at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago to address Alzheimer’s Disease and brain aging. Its only real departure from the traditional Mediterranean diet is an emphasis on daily berry consumption and avoidance of dairy products. This is all to say, clearly the Southern Italians and Greeks have been on to something!
Here is the best of The Mediterranean, DASH & MIND
- Enjoy a wide variety of vegetables and fruits—think of eating a rainbow every day. The pigments in produce, called phytochemicals, appear to be among their healthiest attributes. Eat lots of greens, punctuated by red, yellow, orange and purple.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains. The fiber content helps keep cholesterol levels in check.
- Soy-based yogurt is an excellent source of protein and coconut and almond-based yogurts provide a healthy dose of probiotics. Just be sure to read labels and look for brands without added sugar. Simply sweeten it yourself with a teaspoon of honey or brown sugar. Add some fruit and crushed nuts for a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are important for reducing inflammation. Vegetarian sources include chia, hemp and flax seeds. These little beauties also have the benefit of some protein and fiber. Sprinkle some over yogurt, in a salad or add them to a smoothie.
- Add beans and lentils to salads and soups for an extra punch of fiber and heart-healthy potassium.
- Adding avocados a few times a week adds heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
- Watch added sugar in processed foods. On Nutrition Facts Labels, sugar is expressed in grams. To understand this number in teaspoons, divide the number of grams by 4. In other words, if a serving of cereal contains 16g sugar, that’s a whopping 4 teaspoons per serving. Given that it’s advisable to stay under 6g added sugar per day, a serving of anything shouldn’t contain more than one teaspoon or two.
To take things a step further, researchers from the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C. recently published a review published in Progress in Cardiovascular Disease. The review concluded that a plant-based diet has the following benefits:
- A 40% reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- A 40% reduction in risk of coronary heart disease
- 91% of patients experienced a partial to full clearing of blocked arteries
- A 34% reduction in risk of hypertension
Don’t worry if a strict vegetarian pattern of eating doesn’t appeal to you; simply focus on more plants and less meat and you’ll reap many of the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Barbie Boules is a registered dietitian and certified health coach in private practice for 17 years. She works with individuals, families, brands and corporate wellness programs. Her approach is personalized to each client – one size never fits all. She is passionate about the concepts of mindful and intuitive eating, with a focus on anti-inflammatory and pro-gut health foods. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone 312-607-6689.