Heart disease kills more people in the Western world than any other disease, including the various types of cancer. The best way to protect your heart isn’t with medication but with a healthy lifestyle based on the Mediterranean diet.
In the United States, more than 600,000 people die of heart disease every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s one out of every four deaths in total. A poor diet (and lack of exercise) are among the main reasons so many Americans fall victim to heart disease.
Despite ranking eighth in the world for income per capita, the United States ranks a lowly 43rd for lifespan. Let’s compare this to the countries best-known for the Mediterranean diet. Italy, ranked #25 for income per capita, is #6 for life span, according to the World Health Organization. Israel, #21 for income, is #8 for life span. France, #19 for income, is #9 for life span. Greece, #39 for income, is #24 for life span. Portugal, not technically a Mediterranean nation but close enough, is #36 for income and #21 for life span.
The numbers are clear: diet is a far better indicator of lifespan than income.
So, what’s the secret of the Mediterranean diet? What do the Italians and Greeks know that others don’t?
The Mediterranean diet incorporates more healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains, and fewer unhealthy fats. It also incorporates ingredients like olive oil and red wine that, when consumed in moderation, are good for lowering stress levels.
Other characteristics of the Mediterranean lifestyle include eating with family and friends, getting plenty of exercise, and eating your biggest meal of the day at lunch instead of dinner.
According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have shown that eating Mediterranean food reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Women who stick to a Mediterranean diet menu supplemented by extra virgin olive oil and mixed nuts are at reduced risk of breast cancer.
For these reasons, most major scientific organizations encourage people to follow a Mediterranean diet or incorporate Mediterranean foods into their diet.
The good news is you don’t need to live near the Mediterranean Sea to follow a Mediterranean diet. Virtually everything the Mediterranean people eat can be found at your local grocers, and most of it isn’t expensive. Some meal delivery companies also have Mediterranean meal plans.
The Mediterranean diet is based on:
- Eating primarily plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (such as beans, peas, and lentils), and nuts.
- Using healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil instead of unhealthy fats like butter.
- Using herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Eating fish and poultry instead of red meat.
- Drinking a moderate amount of red wine.
- Eating with family and friends instead of by yourself (because socializing has a positive effect on your health).
- Exercising each day.
It’s easy to come up with healthy meal ideas based on the ingredients listed above. Here is an example of a Mediterranean diet menu to see you through the day.
Breakfast – Greek Yogurt with Berries: It only takes a minute to put some yogurt in a bowl, add berries or other fruits, and sprinkle it with seeds. For an even better start to the day, eat your yogurt after a morning run or swim.
Morning Snack – Wholegrain Sesame Seed Bagel with Hummus: For a morning snack, grab a wholegrain bagel with seeds and add a healthy bean-based spread such as hummus (which is made from garbanzo beans).
Lunch – Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry: The great thing about curries is you can use multiple vegetables and legumes and add in herbs and spices to suit your tastes. One of our favorite curry recipes for the Mediterranean diet incorporates sweet potatoes, green or red lentils, red onions, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, curry powder, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and cilantro. If you’re feeling extra hungry, drizzle a small amount of olive oil over toasted bread.
With lunch – Smoothie: Smoothies are a great way of incorporating multiple healthy foods into your diet without having to compromise on taste. Fruit smoothies taste even better with leafy greens.
Afternoon Snack – Nuts and Seeds: For a light snack, grab a handful of nuts and seeds. If you feel like something sweet, there are plenty of great chocolate brands that incorporate things like almonds, walnuts, and sesame seeds.
Dinner – Soup and/or Salad: The great thing about soups is they can be made of virtually anything. Whether it’s barley, zucchini, sweet potato, there are plenty of healthy things you can pop in your soup. As for salads, there are plenty of choices in the produce section of your local grocery store. Don’t forget to drizzle your salad with olive oil. If you feel like it, have a glass of red wine after dinner or a glass of tea with mint or lemongrass.
If you really don’t have time to plan your meals or prepare food, the good news is you don’t have to. Thanks to meal delivery companies, you can have fresh ingredients delivered to your door along with healthy food recipes for dinner that take just 15 to 30 minutes to make.