Mediterranean ingredients – a mindful, heart-healthy diet
The Mediterranean diet, which is more of an eating plan than a real diet, is rich in antioxidant vitamins, minerals and important Omega-3 products that not only offers you stress protection, but also a mindful way of eating.
What has stress got to do with diet? A diet high in fat intake and lack of other nutrients affects the balance of the stress hormones cortisol and leads to ill health, according to studies by Yarasheski, et. al. (2006), and Gerozissis et. al. (2004) .(1)The relation between stress and what we eat is already well understood, while stress leads to other problems such as hypertension, heart diseases, inflammations and immune system deficiencies. Inflammation is a well-known biological sign of stress and is a known risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The good news is that following the Mediterranean diet improves weight loss, gives a better control of the sugar levels in the blood and reduces risks of depression. (2) If followed in a traditional way, the diet also reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. (3) Eating like a Mediterranean also has benefits such as slowing down memory loss and mental decline that normally come with old age. (4) But maybe most importantly of all, the diet influences cortisol levels in the blood, reduces cholesterol absorption (6) and reduces the stress reaction (Rombouts et. al. 2007).
So what is the Mediterranean diet? A heart-healthy eating plan due to its high content of antioxidants (5) coming from an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, the Mediterranean nutrients not only reduce stress, but also improve overall mood and mental performance (Haskell et. al., 2010). The advice on what foods to include in your daily meals is followed by the equally important advice on how to consume them. Being aware of not only your nutrients intake, but also keeping physically active and enjoying meals with family and friends away from other distracters has much in common with a mindful way of eating. As already discussed in previous articles, practicing mindful eating has an important effect on stress reduction and influences concentrations of cortisol in the blood (Rombouts et. al. 2007).
The main principles of eating in a Mediterranean style can be summed up in a graphic pyramid, where at the bottom lie the foods that every meal should contain, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs, and spices. Next in line come ingredients such as fish and seafood which should be eaten often, at least two times a week. A more moderate intake of weekly proteins can be considered in the form of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt, while at the top of the pyramid stand the less often recommended foods, such as red meats and sweets.
Let’s take each of these principles separately in 8 different steps:
1. The first easy thing that is suggested to implement in your daily habits according to the Mediterranean diet is to replace butter and fatty oils with healthy fats, such as olive oil, which is a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. You can also use in your cooking and baking other plant-based oils such as canola and walnut oil, which are rich in the same healthy fats and even Omega-3 fatty acids.
2. Secondly, if you want a diet rich in antioxidants and vitamins, it is recommended to include as many daily servings as possible of vegetables, legumes, and green salads. The focus is on seasonal and fresh, locally grown foods that have been processed as little as possible through cooking.
3. The next step is to give it a try and consider fruits as your daily dessert. If adding a little sugar or a few drops of honey to your fruit will make you eat more fruit and turn it into a favorite dessert, then feel free to do so.
4. Eating like a Greek – or Italian for that matter - also involves including as much whole-grain bread, pasta, rice and other grains as possible in your diet, as for example quinoa, barley (full of fiber), oatmeal, or even air-popped popcorn (you can add a little olive oil if you like).
5. If you want to have a more natural snack, you can replace your fatty processed snack foods with natural nuts, seeds, or low-fat cheese and dairy. Take your pick from a wide array of almonds, walnuts, pistachio, sunflower seeds or even yogurt or plain fruits for whenever you feel like eating between meals or during a work break.
6. At least twice a week, it is recommended to eat fish of any kind, except fried of course. A different suggestion works here: the fatter the fish, the better! For example, salmon and tuna are known to be rich in heart-healthy Omega-3s.
7. If you drink, try to do it in moderation, by limiting your consumption to no more than a glass or two during a meal. Research showed that moderate use of alcohol has been linked to raised “good” HDL cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. (2)
8. Last but not least, we recommend eating mindfully, by slowing down and savoring every bite and being aware of your body’s hunger – and fullness- signals and changing sensations of your body.
The Mediterranean diet is, as can be seen, also a lifestyle of choice. The reduction of bad, saturated fats and the increase of healthy nutrients is followed by regular physical activity, cherishing time with family and friends, as well as promoting well-being through a diet that is compassionate both to yourself and your environment.
Other Sources To Help:
1. The Mediterranean Diet Program
2. The Mediterranean Diet Meltdown
3.Healthy Mediterranean Diet Recipes
(1) - http://www.academia.edu/4391263/Diet_Exercise_Mindfulness_and_Relaxation_Stress_Management_and_Stress_Reduction
(4) - http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2015/07/30/mediterranean-diet-cognitive-decline/30882335/
(5) – Trichopoulou A., Vasipolou, E., Lagiou, A. 1999. “Mediterranean diet and coronary heart disease: Are antioxidants critical?” Nutrition Reviews 57.8, 253-5.
(6) - Richard, C., Couture, P., Desroches, S., Benjannet, S., Seidah, N. et al. 2012. “Effect of the Mediterranean diet with and without weight loss on surrogate markers of cholesterol homeostasis in men with the metabolic syndrome”, The British Journal of Nutrition, 107.5: 705-11.