American Heart Month is in February, a month not only dedicated to celebrating Valentine’s Day with loved ones but also raising awareness about and preventing heart disease, the leading cause of death for American men and women.
The Mediterranean Diet has long been associated with lowering cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, and decreasing heart and cardiovascular disease risk. Nutrition plays an important role in heart health, and when looking at traditional Mediterranean regions, it’s clear the lower stress lifestyle of those who lived in southern Italy, Greece, Spain, and Morocco 50+ years ago also heavily influenced the health of the culture.
Though Valentine’s Day may have you dreaming of a trip to the Mediterranean, you can incorporate aspects of this way of life without even leaving your home!
Make it Mediterranean by…
Adding Mediterranean flavors to your menu.
Traditional foods and flavors of the Mediterranean include seafood, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, seeds, herbs, spices, eggs, and yogurt. Traditionally, Mediterranean meals are plant-based with accents of omega 3-rich fat sources such as fatty fish. They also contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Even a traditional steak dinner can be made more Mediterranean by shifting the proportions of the plate to include more produce and a moderate amount of meat.
Shopping locally for seasonal ingredients.
Visit local farmers’ markets and consider getting involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Purchase groceries from stores that buy from local farmers. Doing so supports the local economy, saves money, and presents a challenge to be creative and incorporate variety (more nutrients) into meals and snacks.
Making time for meals.
For many, breakfast is inhaled in a rush on the run, and lunch is eaten with one hand while typing emails with the other. The traditional Mediterranean culture didn’t buy into the fast food, fast life approach. Meals were included in their daily schedules to promote savoring, community, stress relief, and improved digestion. What’s the worst that could happen by consistently carving out mealtimes on your calendar?
Movement was a natural part of the traditional Mediterranean culture that didn’t require grueling hours in the gym; however, they still reaped the benefits of being active daily through lots of walking and some manual labor. If “exercise” has become a word that evokes a sense of dread, simply consider activities that would make moving more enjoyable like dancing, gardening, walking meetings, playing with the dog, or getting out on the Greenline. Just 20 minutes per day can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease!
Doing more of what matters to you.
What is your passion? What would you do with more time to yourself? People living in traditional Mediterranean regions were known to prioritize fun, family, and friends. They cherished social interaction, family meals, time to relax and unwind, and adequate sleep. With stress being a major contributor to high blood pressure and heart disease, it’s time to stop romanticizing self-care and make it a reality.
These practices of the Mediterranean culture were non-negotiable habits that led to better health and lower stress, which is good for the heart…and the soul!
Sample Mediterranean Menu
Eggs | Whole Grain Toast with Avocado | Fruit
Chicken Sandwich on Whole Grain Bread with Veggies & Pesto
Vegetable or Lentil Soup
Grilled Salmon | Brown Rice | Greek Salad
Raw Veggies or Pita with Hummus
Fruit & Greek Yogurt
Blair Mize, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN is co-owner of Memphis Nutrition Group, a nutrition & lifestyle counseling practice operated by registered & licensed dietitians/nutritionists. Memphis Nutrition Group believes in a non-diet approach that promotes overall health and optimal performance without compromising the enjoyment of food. For more information call Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit www.MemphisNutritionGroup.com.