By: Jennifer Jope for Heart1
The Atkins Diet, The South Beach Diet and the Mediterranean Diet – oh my! We’ve all heard the drawbacks associated with Atkins and South Beach, but the Mediterranean diet is still one of the few eating plans that consistently receive high marks and recently, the Mediterranean diet was said to be best for the heart by the German Heart Foundation.
|You know what foods comprise the Mediterranean diet, but you’re still not sure what to prepare. Try this recipe for Mediterranean Feta Shrimp with Tomatoes and Spinach from mediterraneandietinfo.com. It serves three.
1 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and de-veined
1 can diced tomatoes
6 oz feta cheese, chopped
5 oz bag of baby spinach
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 lemon (juice from)
2 Tsp. of fresh dill
3 Tbsp. of olive oil
salt and pepper
In a medium non-stick skillet, saute garlic in olive oil over medium heat for about one minute. Add shrimp. Cook until shrimp begin to turn opaque (about two minutes) and remove from pan. Add diced tomatoes and feta to hot skillet. When feta begins to melt, add spinach and cook until spinach becomes soft (about three minutes). Place shrimp back into the mixture and add juice from half a lemon, dill salt and pepper. Cook until shrimp are cooked through (approximately another three minutes).
Although it’s been known for some time that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and little red meat is healthier, it’s only been in the last few years that scientists have confirmed that a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil and nuts), is even healthier for the heart. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in January, researchers confirmed that moderate consumption of olive oil by healthy men in Europe reduced systolic blood pressure in non-Mediterranean participants.
Unlike many other diets that have specific guidelines and restrictions, the Mediterranean diet is not a specific plan, but is considered a lifestyle. Because more than 15 countries are part of the Mediterranean region, there are variations on the diet. However, there are some constants; those include high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread, beans and potatoes. Nuts, seeds and olive oil are consumed as a monounsaturated fat source. The population of Crete, Greece, which has the highest rate of olive oil consumption in all of Europe, has the lowest rate of fatal heart attacks. It is believed, though, that the entire diet has a role in keeping hearts healthier. Dairy, fish and poultry are eaten in low to moderate amounts and very little red meat is consumed. Some would say the best part about this diet is that wine consumption in low to moderate amounts is encouraged. At the same time, if you don’t drink, you are not advised to start. In fact, you can get similar benefits from drinking purple grape juice.
“As a rule of thumb, one should eat three times more vegetables than meat,” Professor Hans-Juergen Becker, the German Heart Foundation's chairman said late last year. “Roughage, too, helps prevent heart disease. One glass [of wine] with a meal is the norm in Crete.”
If you’ve been eating a healthy diet based on the USDA’s Food Pyramid, you’re not too far off from the Mediterranean diet. Both plans call for a high intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. However, very little red meat is consumed in Mediterranean countries, whereas the USDA’s pyramid does not distinguish its high protein meats from each other. Fish intake is something else to consider. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, Greeks typically eat coldwater fish, which contain heart-healthy omega-3 oils. If you compare the Mediterranean diet to the USDA’s recommendations, you may notice that the Mediterranean diet has more fat than what the USDA suggests (40 percent vs. 30 percent). So how can a diet higher in fat be better for you? What matters is the kind of fat – monounsaturated fat is far healthier than any other type of fat.
Although it’s called the Mediterranean diet, this eating plan isn’t the only factor in lowering the chances of a heart attack. Lifestyle also plays a role in the Mediterranean region. People typically participate in more physical activity and have strong social support systems, according to the American Heart Association.
We may not be living on a Greek isle, but it might be worth eating as if we did. With so many unhealthy options in our supermarkets, use the Mediterranean diet as a guide. Eat healthy fats and oils and stay away from saturated and trans fats. Eat as many whole foods as you can and when you can’t, look for natural ingredients and steer clear of processed foods.