The Mediterranean diet enjoys a prestigious position across the globe, often named one of the world’s most healthy diets. Many people are confused as to why, however. Aren’t Mediterranean diets, especially Italian cuisine, rich in pasta, pizza, and other fatty and starchy foods? Turns out there is more than meets the eye (or tongue!) during an authentic Italian meal.
The Benefits of Choosing a Heart-Healthy Diet
The Mediterranean diet is often characterized as a “heart-healthy diet.” According to the American Heart Association, the Mediterranean diet follows its official dietary recommendations quite closely. For example, people on the Mediterranean diet eat a lot less saturated fat than those on typical American diets.
Killing about 610,000 Americans per year, heart disease is a leading cause of death in America. The good news is, healthy eating can prevent or delay heart disease, and it’s well within your control. Remember: heart disease isn’t just harmful to your physical health, it can be harmful to your mental as well as financial health! Affording heart disease treatment can be costly, so much so that some Americans now ship their drugs from licensed pharmacies abroad because international and Canadian mail order pharmacy are much cheaper.
A distinguishing trait of the Mediterranean diet is its use of fat. Mediterranean diets can be high in fat, but most of this is from unsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Olive oil, a source of monounsaturated fat and a cornerstone of the Italian Mediterranean diet, does not raise cholesterol levels like saturated fat.
On the other hand, saturated fats, typically found in red meat and dairy products, can increase your levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. As an alternative, you can replace these foods with those rich in polyunsaturated fats (found in fish) and monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil).
Modest Meat and Dairy
Mediterranean cultures eat relatively low levels of red meat and dairy when compared to the typical American. Eggs are eaten at most four times a week, if at all. Instead, the Mediterranean diet typically involves a large and diverse array of fruits and vegetables, bread, cereals, nuts, seeds, and beans.
You don’t have to give up meat entirely to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet. Instead, simply lower your consumption of meat by becoming a “flexitarian.” Experts recommend starting with one meatless day a week and gradually getting used to plant-based eating habits from there.
A Glass of Wine with Dinner?
There are indeed many scientific claims that a modest amount of red wine is good for the heart. While people who drink moderately do tend to have lower rates of heart disease, alcohol isn’t the only way to achieve these benefits, and experts recommend you don’t start drinking if you don’t normally drink. A moderate amount of alcohol in this context means no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
Keep it Simple and Spare
Another large component of Mediterranean-style cooking is using fewer, simpler ingredients. Instead of drowning pasta and pizza in heavy sauces, cheese, and salt, traditional Mediterranean versions of these dishes use lighter ingredients and herbs and spices for flavoring. For example, take a look at the American vs. Italian versions of pasta sauce here.
Spaghetti Aglio e olio, or spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, is a wonderful example of an easy, simple, and light pasta dish. Hold the heavy cream — this recipe emphasizes extra-virgin olive oil as a sauce base, as well as fresh garlic, fresh parsley, red pepper flakes, and real, grated parmesan cheese.
The More the Merrier
It turns out how you eat is as important as what you eat. Dining is a social affair. We often forget this in the hustle-bustle of everyday life, where lunch consists of wolfing down takeout at your desk. The Mediterranean style of eating is a communal experience, so dine with people whose company you enjoy, engage in lively conversations, and savor it as a pleasurable experience.
The Mediterranean Diet Wins!
The Mediterranean diet is touted as an ideal way of eating by many medical experts, and it’s quite tasty too! A recent study even found that non-human primates tended not to overeat while on a Mediterranean diet when compared to a typical American diet. So, try to add some colorful vegetables, healthy fats, and lighter sauces to your food today. And make sure to enjoy it with good company.