by Lisa Shettle, MS, RDN, CD-N
If there’s one recurrent theme in the health industry right now, it’s the shift to plant-based eating. In fact, U.S. News and World Report’s board of health experts rank the Mediterranean diet as the number one diet for achieving the best overall health for 2022. This lifestyle is not overly restrictive and emphasizes whole foods and variety with a focus on olive oil, seafood, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Red meat and added sugar are limited; eggs, poultry, and dairy are eaten in moderation.
February is American Heart month, a time to focus on our cardiovascular health. Adopting the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle is a way to supercharge your heart health. The emphasis on daily servings of nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits daily reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, minimizes chronic inflammation, and promotes weight loss.
To get started, try incorporating these tips into your routine:
1) Shop for a healthy heart
Shop for colorful produce, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. The fiber and phytochemicals in these foods are a boost to a healthy heart. Also include heart-healthy unsaturated fats such as nuts, avocados, and olive oil.
2) Start your day with a heart-healthy breakfast
Steel cut oats topped with berries is a heart-healthy breakfast choice. Oatmeal is rich in soluble fiber, shown to reduce cholesterol levels. This whole grain cereal is also rich in the minerals potassium and magnesium which contribute to a healthy heartbeat. Berries contain heart-healthy antioxidants, polyphenols and fiber.
3) Try going meatless
Replacing meat with legumes is a heart-healthy swap. Legumes—including black beans, lentils, and split peas–are a plant protein option that are a good source of soluble fiber and low in saturated fat (unlike a hamburger) which the American Heart Association and Dietary Guidelines recommend we limit.
4) Choose fish more often
Fatty fish including salmon, trout, albacore tuna, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, heart healthy fats which can decrease the risk of plaque in the arteries, lower blood triglyceride levels, and reduce inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends we eat at least two fatty fish meals each week.
Regular exercise helps to prevent heart disease while also improving overall mental and physical health. The American Heart Association recommends five 30-minute moderate exercise sessions each week. Currently <5% of adults get the recommended amount of exercise!
Choose exercises you love and be consistent: Biking, swimming, power yoga, and brisk walking are great choices. It is also simple to add exercise to your daily routine by taking the stairs and parking your car a few blocks away from your destination.
A registered dietitian nutritionist provides medical nutrition therapy and is your best source of reliable and evidence-based nutrition information. An RDN can also help you determine measurable and achievable goals within your individualized plan for your best health outcomes.
BONUS: services are covered by most health insurance plans!