Every year, more than 700,000 Americans experience a heart attack. One in every four deaths in the U.S. is related to heart disease. These numbers are startling, but the good news is that these outcomes are highly preventable. Diet and lifestyle changes can help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Research shows that the best diet for heart health is the Mediterranean diet. An analysis of more than 1.5 million adults showed that following a Mediterranean diet contributed to a lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.
“We know that saturated and trans fats cause cholesterol to build up in arteries and cause blockages, which can lead to heart attack and stroke, and that sodium contributes to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease,” says Diane Bloomberg, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
Integrating the Mediterranean diet into your life
“The Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, fish and healthier fats like olive oil and nuts, so you eat fewer less-healthy foods,” Bloomberg says.
Named for incorporating foods typically enjoyed by people who live in Greece, Spain and southern Italy, the Mediterranean diet includes:
- Fruits at every meal
- Vegetables at every meal
- Whole grains at every meal
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Fish twice a week
- A handful of nuts each day
- A small glass of red wine a couple of times a week
The Mediterranean diet encourages consumption of monounsaturated fats — the kind found in foods such as avocados and nuts — which are not only good for the heart, but also for the skin. The Mediterranean diet also suggests using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor food; limiting red meat consumption to a few times a month; and replacing butter with healthy alternatives like olive oil.
“Serve fish at least twice a week; try different kinds of beans and add them to your meals; fill half your plate with vegetables; and have less emphasis on meat,” Bloomberg says.
If you are concerned about your heart health or the health of a loved one, talk to your doctor. If a change in diet is called for, a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you incorporate the Mediterranean diet to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve overall wellness.