If you're looking to protect your heart, following a diet from the sunny Mediterranean may be just what the doctor ordered.
A new study from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., has shown what researchers have suspected for a long time: eating a Mediterranean diet can help prevent heart disease.
The study, A Systematic Review of the Evidence Supporting a Causal Link Between Dietary Factors and Coronary Heart Disease, appears in the April 13 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. It evaluated nearly 200 studies conducted between 1950 and 2007 that investigated the link between diet and heart disease.
It found that consuming foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil), as is common in the Mediterranean diet, reduces your risk of getting heart disease. The diet also includes a high proportion of fish, whole grains, a limited amount of red wine and very little red meat.
On the other hand, the study also found that consuming certain foods can increase your risk of damaging your heart. Try to avoid foods that are high on the glycemic index, a measure of how quickly carbohydrates affect your blood sugar levels. Foods such as refined grains and potatoes affect your blood sugar quickly, while ones lower on the index, such as whole grains and vegetables, raise your blood sugar more slowly.
The study also found that foods that are high in trans fatty acids, which occur in products with hydrogenated oil, such as some margarines, baked goods and potato chips, can increase your risk of getting heart disease.
Here are some easy ways to incorporate these principles into your diet:
Eat salad with lots of vegetables every day, and dress your salads with olive oil and vinegar instead of store-bought salad dressing.
Use whole wheat grain bread, rice and pasta rather than white.
Choose fish more often, and when you eat meat, have less; treat it as a garnish rather than a main course.
Snack on fruit or a small handful of nuts every day.
Enjoy a glass of red wine with your dinner.