In the early 1990s two of my best friends died at very young ages. Crushed and bewildered by these unexpected losses, I delved into the reasons for their illnesses and subsequent deaths. Soon it became clear to me that modern medicine does not have all the answers and that unless we take control of our bodies and practice prevention, we might not reach old age. Or even if we do, we might not enjoy the best possible health. My research also helped me realize the remarkable benefits of the diet and lifestyle of my native Spain. It is a fact that people living in Mediterranean countries are healthier than Americans and that they have almost half as many deaths from cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity as Americans. So, if the Mediterranean diet has worked for its people for centuries in warding them from many of the chronic diseases that plague us now, why not copying it? There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The good news is that if you start emulating the lifestyle of the Mediterranean world now, you will attain newfound health by nourishing the whole person through changes to both your diet and your lifestyle. Heres how.
How Mediterraneans Have Kept a Healthy Heart for Centuries
1. Watch what type of fuel you feed your body
Why do many people buy Super gasoline even though its more expensive? If they bought the least expensive gas they could save a lot of money. Well, only in the short run. Car engines run more efficiently with high-quality fuels and the parts deteriorate much faster when you use cheap fluids.
Like your car, your body is comprised of different parts and your heart is the engine. The fuel you use to keep your heart and other body parts running makes a difference in your performance, whether youre at work, at school, with your family or anywhere else. It will also affect the speed at which your parts deteriorate. Nowadays, nutrition experts all over the world are making an effort to introduce the principles of the Mediterranean diet because centuries of experience have proved that it is the best fuel available to keep our parts running well until old age. Even the European community is recommending this healthy diet to all its members.
2. Cut down on processed foods and load up with fruits and vegetables
To have a healthy heart like the Mediterraneans and maintain normal blood pressure, your diet should be five times higher in potassium than in sodium -the part of salt that is bad for us. Unfortunately, in the typical American diet, the amount of sodium is five times higher than potassium. Why do we have it so backwards? Because seventy-five percent of the salt we eat every day comes from processed foods, most of which is added by manufacturers and restaurants. Because the American public consumes about 4,000mg per day of sodium, far more than what is needed, the American Public Health Association recently called for a 50 percent sodium reduction in our nations food supply over the next ten years. Its estimated that such a reduction would save at least 150,000 lives annually.
Fruits and vegetables are low in sodium and high in potassium. By eating fruits and vegetables, you are also replacing other foods in your meals that may be high in sodium. Plus fruits and vegetables contribute good amounts of calcium and magnesium, two minerals that you need for a normal heart beating and to maintain low blood pressure.
3. Give yourself a daily dose of olive oil
Replace saturated fat with extra virgin olive oil. Butter is rarely consumed in the traditional Mediterranean diet and margarine was completely unknown in the area until recently. People in the Mediterranean countries useextra virgin olive oil, one of the best sources of monounsaturated fat, the kind of fat that does not stick to your arteries. Extra virgin olive oil is also an excellent source of many antioxidants such as vitamin E. If you are considering taking vitamin E in capsules, be aware that you wont get the same results as ingesting extra virgin olive oil. Researchers for the Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation Study found that people who received 265 milligrams of vitamin E daily in the form of supplements did not have fewer hospitalizations for heart failure or chest pain when compared to those who received a placebo, a faked pill. Thats why nutrition authorities recommend 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day as prevention. So use olive oil and avoid other fat sources such as butter and margarine.
4. Eat more legumes
By legumes, I mean dry beans, lentils, chickpeas and garbanzo beans. Legumes have been a staple food in the Mediterranean diet for centuries. They are packed with minerals such as iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, folic acid and some of the B-complex vitamins. They are low in fat and sodium. Legumes are also very high in soluble fiber, which takes cholesterol out of your body through the feces. And to top it all, legumes can help balance your budget because they are very inexpensive. If legumes are not part of your regular diet, you are missing an almost perfect food.
5. Eat more aromatic herbs, garlic and onions
To add the Mediterranean flavor to your meals, replace salt with garlic and aromatic herbs. Garlic is a truly wonder of nature; it has been used for thousands of years as both food and medicine. People around the world, especially those who enjoy few chronic heart diseases, use it extensively in their daily diets. Why? Because more than 200 chemical compounds that might protect our bodies have been found in garlic.
Recent studies have shown that garlic can significantly reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, lower blood pressure and prevent the formation of blood clots. It can also protect our bodies through its antioxidant properties.
Onions and other aromatic herbs work very similar to garlic. They contain about 25 active compounds that appear to help combat heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Scientific studies have associated good health not only with the ingestion of healthy foods, but also with a lifestyle linked to family life, leisure time, regular physical activity and traditional habits such as taking a nap. Your nap doesnt have to be two hours long. As a matter of fact, if you take a nap longer than 20 minutes, you may wake up with a headache and general feeling of discomfort. A 10 to 15 minute nap at midday will help keep stress at bay. So why not take 15 minutes after youre done eating and have a snooze?
Follow my tips and you will live longer and stronger without heart disease.