We’ve long known that metabolic syndrome is a recipe for heart disease.(1) New research is supporting what we’ve always proclaimed, that the key to successfully managing this cluster of risk factors — increased blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and excess body fat around the waist — may be found in healthy recipes, specifically those found in a Mediterranean diet.(2)
Researchers at the University of Rovira i Virgili in Reus, Spain, studying the effects of a Mediterranean diet on heart disease have concluded that this diet, supplemented with nuts and extra virgin olive oil can reverse metabolic syndrome.(3)
Previously, researchers with the PREDIMED study — a long-term multicenter clinical trial designed to assess the effects of the Mediterranean diet on prevention of cardiovascular disease — reported that one-year data showed that the diet supplemented with nuts was more likely to reverse metabolic syndrome than a low-fat diet.(4)
The current study — published in October in the — analyzed PREDIMED data over five years and determined that some 28 per cent of participants, classed as having metabolic syndrome, experienced a reversal.(5)
What is a Mediterranean diet?
Certainly there are numerous countries encircling the Mediterranean Sea, all with distinct and varied cultures and diet profiles. However, the Mediterranean diet that’s generally cited in scientific studies and recommended by doctors comes from Greece and, particularly, the island of Crete.
It promotes plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts plus use of herbs and spices for flavouring rather than salt.(6) Butter is replaced with healthier fats, such as olive oil. The diet recommends eating fish and poultry a couple of times a week, in small portions, and limits consumption of red meat.
While it’s not a complete match, this philosophy is in line with my Nutrition Plans, which also advocate healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds as opposed to “damaged fats,” such as trans fats (hydrogenated oils), vegetable oils, and canola oil that have been altered by heat and chemical changes, causing them to oxidize and form health hazardous free radicals.
Let’s look at what works in this Mediterranean diet — which is also consistent with my own Nutrition Plan:
Eat Your Veggies — and your fruit!
One of the key factors, without doubt, is fruits and vegetables.(7)
Vegetables are high in fibre and packed with vitamins and anti-oxidants. Fresh, organic and minimally processed, they should be part of every meal and are great snacks, as well. There’s not just one vegetable that contains all the necessary nutrients, so choose a variety of types and colors — from dark leafy greens to bright red, yellow and orange produce.
Don’t forget legumes, a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils (8), Among the most versatile and nutritious plant-based foods, they’re low in fat and high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium and fiber. These are a great source of protein! However, I won’t hesitate to mention that legumes aren’t for everyone. In fact, some people do not digest them well. As you begin to transform your diet, this is something to monitor. It’s best to start with legumes in limited quantities to see how you do!
Fruits, too, particularly berries, pack a healthy wallop, and giving apples and bananas a run for their money are other, less common, tropical fruits.(9) A few examples that I would urge you to try include:
- Acai berries, from palm trees that grow in the Brazilian rain forest, with a distinctive taste of chocolate and wild berries, are rich in free-radical scavenging anthocyanins and in essential fatty acids.
- Guava, with a taste reminiscent of strawberries and pears, is an excellent source of vitamin C as well as vitamin A, fiber, potassium, and phosphorus,
- Papaya, native to Central America, offers loads of vitamin C, plus a good amount of folate and potassium and the enzyme papain, useful in protein digestion.
Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios — nuts are a handy and healthy snack and can also be a delicious addition to many main dishes.(10) In fact, they are one of the key elements of the studies stated above! They’re high in healthy fats, as espoused by the studies, and along with their inherent fibre, they can reduce cholesterol levels.
Walnuts, in particular, are also rich in heart-friendly Omega 3 fatty acids. While fish and fish oil are often touted as the go-to food for Omega 3s, walnuts are one of the best plant-based sources. Truthfully — something many people do not realize — most of the other nuts are higher in Omega 6s and Omega 9s … and most people get enough of those!
Nut butters, such as almond butter or tahini (sesame seed) offer intriguing taste sensations as spreads.
Consume your nuts raw to ensure the highest nutrient quality. To enhance digestion, soak them overnight first.
It’s also wise to remember that nuts are high in calories so shouldn’t be eaten in large quantities. A handful a day is enough to provide health benefits. And, of course, avoid the candied and highly-salted varieties.
While some argue that it’s the veggies in this diet that pack the biggest punch and downplay the use of olive oil, there’s no doubt that olive oil is one of the consistent sources of healthy fats in all types of Mediterranean diets!(11)
Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids, considered a healthy dietary fat. You should note that olive oil is not a giant source of Omega 3s — but still a healthy oil I consume daily. Add it in to your diet in moderation, realizing that true, unrefined olive oil, in ancestral times, would be available in smaller quantities only. Be sure to purchase olive oil that is not only organic, but labels its date and location of harvest, so that you know it’s in season. Air, light, and heat can oxidize and damage even the best olive oils over time. So, take precious care of your olive oil!
Fishing For Health
The Mediterranean diet advocates eating fish at least twice a week. Fatty fish — salmon, lake trout, herring, mackerel, halibut or sardines, for example — are excellent sources of those beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids.(12) Grilling, baking or broiling are the healthiest options for preparing fish. Avoid deep fried and breaded fish.
Meats — Choose Wisely!
Fish and poultry are the staple animal products in the Mediterranean diet, which, in general, limits red meat consumption to just a few times a month. If you follow my Maximized Living Nutrition Plan, you’ll know that I am not opposed to red meat consumption, but would endeavour you to source exclusively grass fed (and finished) beef and lamb, and even wild game like venison. On the same principle, your fish should be of the wild variety and from large, clean bodies of water.
You aren’t what you eat. You are what you are eating ate. Be sure you know how your animals were fed!
From The Dairy
While the Mediterranean diet doesn’t discourage dairy products, it suggests limiting higher fat products, such as whole or two-per-cent milk, cheese and ice cream in favour of skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
I recommend full-fat, organic diary as a minimum and, even better, non-homogenized or even raw products, such as full-fat raw milk and yogurt.(13)
Certainly, there are a number of elements on a Mediterranean diet that are heart friendly. And, the ingredients offer great opportunity to explore recipes that are both healthy and tantalizingly tasty 14. With any trendy or “named” diet out there, incorporate only what already jives with the Maximized Living Plan you know and love! It’s thrilling to see more research like this supporting what we’ve proclaimed for years.