Heart healthy eating: go Med!

The Mediterranean diet strikes again! The latest research on people with heart disease suggests that by following this way of eating they can reduce their risk of dying early from heart disease by 37 per cent. So what is it that is so special?

Olive oil: Butter, margarine and other fats are hardly ever used in Italian cookery; instead they use olive oil which is a rich source of monounsaturated fat, which is protective against heart disease especially if used in place of saturated fats. It is also a source of the antioxidant vitamin E. But before you start lashing it on your bacon and cabbage, remember the Italians use it for vegetable dishes, tomato sauces, salads, and to prepare fish.

Fruit and vegetables: When you think about Mediterranean food the first thing that springs to mind is colourful food and especially tomatoes – be it fresh tomatoes or tomato-based sauces. Tomatoes are a good source of antioxidant vitamins, the vitamins that mop up the free radicals which damage our cells. These antioxidants become even more concentrated in cooked tomatoes as cooking increases the availability of an antioxidant called lycopene. Researchers have found that it may be one of the main reasons why Italians have lower heart disease and cancer rates.

Oily fish: Sardines and fresh tuna are a staple in the Mediterranean. These oily fish are an excellent source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats; these are associated with a reduced risk of both stroke and heart disease, mainly because they make your blood less likely to clot.

Wine in moderation: Wine, especially red wine, is often drunk at mealtimes in Italy but it is rarely drunk to excess. Moderate wine intake - we’re talking one glass per day for women and two glasses for men (with at least one alcohol-free day in the week ) - means that you will get all the protective benefits but your liver will be able to take it too.

So it might be worth adopting these dietary habits; after all we might gain extra life to our years!

By Cara Cunningham, MINDi, community dietitian. For more information on diet and nutrition, please contact Maria at the Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster on (044 ) 9395518 or [email protected].

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