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Can The Mediterranean Diet Improve Cardiovascular Health for Seniors?

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet consists of a meal plan that is based on typical Mediterranean recipes. The recipes are flavorful and you can even enjoy it with an occasional glass of red wine.

What makes Mediterranean food so heart-healthy is that it often plant-based and the amount of red meat is limited to only once or twice a month. Instead of eating red meat people in the Mediterranean region often eat fish or chicken, which are lower in saturated fats than red meat. Another benefit of eating fatty fish is that they contain omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 decreases blood clotting and can help prevent heart attacks and also contribute to healthy blood pressure. 

Learn more by visiting the Mayo Clinic here.

And if this wasn’t reason enough to give the Mediterranean diet a go: The diet has also been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Key elements of the Mediterranean diet

  • Following a primarily plant-based diet – eating a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains
  • Eating healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil (learn more in the next paragraph)
  • Mindful eating – Enjoying the meal with friends and family
  • Drinking red wine (moderately)
  • Exercising
  • Only eat red meat a few times a month
  • Limiting the amount of salt in the food

The Mediterranean diet makes it easier to choose the right kind of fat

Fats are not necessarily bad for your heart-health, but choosing the right type of fats is crucial.

Fats are essential to giving our bodies energy and for growing cells, fats help our bodies produce hormones and fats helps our bodies absorb certain nutrients.

In short: Our bodies cannot function properly without fats!

The Good Fats

You can get your fats from many different sources. Some are good and some not so good for your health. I will start by going through some of the healthiest types of fats that will indeed help you maintain a healthy body.

Avocados are delicious and contain mostly unsaturated fats, which is the healthy kind. Avocados contain both monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats, this is a bit more technical and I will probably do another post on the subject, but be assured that this is a great thing!

"Did you know: That extra-virgin olive oil is the least processed type of olive oil - and the healthiest!"

Nuts, also an important part of the Mediterranean diet, are high in both mono- and polyunsaturated fats; many nuts also contain omega-3, which is great for heart health.

The Mediterranean diet includes healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil. 

Other types of healthy fats include:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Chia seeds
  • Canola oil
  • Eggs
  • Peanut oil

The bad fat

I will not go so much into explaining about the different fats but know that you should try to limit your intake of saturated fat and instead try to replace them with unsaturated fat or even better, with the types of good fat mentioned above.

You can read more about saturated fats here

You are likely to consume saturated fat when eating:

  • Pork
  • Fat from beef
  • Cheese
  • Lamb
  • Fatty beef
  • Many dairy products
  • Poultry with skin
  • Many types of cakes and other baked goods
  • Fried food

How to get started on the Mediterranean diet

Meal with salmon

The food you get to enjoy when eating according to the Mediterranean diet is delicious and flavorful.

The diet is not so much a diet as a way of life. Putting more mindfulness into the way you eat and remembering that food is something to be enjoyed and shared.

5 Tips to Get You Started

  1. More fruits and veggies – First off you should include more vegetables and fruits in your diet. Choose fresh produce that hasn’t been processed in any way before it lands in your kitchen. Try to eat fruit and vegetables at every meal and be sure to also include berries as well – they are super healthy and make a great snack!
  2. Another great snack is nuts! You know your self and your weaknesses – are you a snacker? Do you find your self buying unhealthy things if you get hungry? Try having a small bag of mixed nuts in your back or pocket at all times. Nuts are high in calories, but they are also super healthy and the benefits of eating nuts are many!
  3. Butter and oil – If you like your butter you should try switching to a plant-based type – Yes there is such a thing! The plant-based butter is a bit softer, but that only means that there is less saturated fat in them and they taste almost the same as conventional butter.

    When frying or cooking try using canola or olive oil instead of margarine or whatever you normally use.
  1. Eat more fish – As mentioned before fish are not only lower in saturated fat, but they also contain omega-3. Try limiting your intake of red meat to 2-3 times a month. Restrict it to when you have guests and there is some special circumstance. You will not only be making the best decision for your own health but also the health of our planet.
  2. Have a glass of wine – Of course, this is optional, but if you enjoy an occasional glass, this is another enjoyable element of the Mediterranean diet.

If you are interested in learning more about the Mediterranean diet I recommend that you buy one of the following books. You can also borrow one on your local library, to find more information and recipes.

Remember that a healthy lifestyle is not complete without regular exercise.

Cardiovascular Diseases in The United States

The number of people in the US who suffer from cardiovascular disease was recently reported by the American Heart Association to be in the neighborhood of 84 million people, causing an estimated 2.200 deaths every day!

In an attempt to alleviate their suffering which includes intermittent chest pain, inability to walk and breathlessness a growing number of drug treatments are being prescribed. Similarly, every year 1.5 million cardiovascular surgeries are performed in the US, but the health benefits for as many as 70-90% of the patients are not obvious.

"The US spends on the order of 60 billion a year to perform cardiovascular surgical procedures"

In other countries like Canada, the mortality rate is the same as in the US, but we perform seven times as many of these surgeries as the Canadians and the same ratio holds for the Swedes. In terms of cost, the US spends on the order of 60 billion a year to perform these surgical procedures.

Despite all these efforts including both surgical procedures and prescription drugs, nearly a million of these people both men and women die annually.

Treating the cause not the symptoms

Doctor writing on notepad

Using drugs and surgery to cure heart disease does not address the underlying causes.

"Heart disease is a metabolic disorder which results from how we convert the food we eat into the energy we need to function"

The underlying causes of heart disease are cholesterol levels, inflammation and the production of free radicals. If we encourage a healthy metabolism by eating the foods that are better for us, by avoiding constant stress, and by getting sufficient exercise we can prevent heart disease.

The good news for senior health is that it is not too late to start practicing the three steps to achieve much better cardiovascular health by exercising, avoiding chronic stress, and eating healthy foods. These lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 80%, which beats the statin drugs with their 30-35% score. Fortunately, these lifestyle changes are under our control. The most important step is the diet or the choice of the foods we eat. The best choice of food that fosters cardiovascular health is the one that has been proven for hundreds of years in the Mediterranean diet.

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