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How to Eat Like an Italian

August 1, 2017 1:24 am

It’s long been rumored that a Mediterranean style of eating is great for your health. But what is a true Mediterranean diet, and how can you emulate one at home? According to, the Society for Vascular Surgery, "Mediterranean diet" is a catchall phrase for cuisine found in Mediterranean countries. The diet generally features lots of fish and non-red meat sources, extra-virgin olive oil and plenty of fruit and vegetables, with additional flavor coming from herbs and spices, not salt.

A diet following these guidelines has been shown to improved vascular health and reduce deaths from cardiovascular issues. Below are a handful of tips to guide you:

1. Less salt, more flavor. The sodium in salt contributes to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for artery disease. High blood pressure causes blood to pump harder through the vessels, which stresses and weakens them. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg of sodium per day as an ideal goal, and no more than 2,300 mg.

TIP – Cut back on salt; perk up flavor with herbs, spices, garlic, onions, vinegars, lemon juice and other favorite flavorings. Seasonings popular in Mediterranean cooking are basil, chilies, cloves, cumin, fennel, garlic, marjoram, oregano, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon and thyme.

TIP 2 - Avoid pizza. As an example, one slice of meat-topped pizza from a national chain has 1,300 mg of sodium, according to the company's website.

2. Eat salmon or mackerel. These fish are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which inhibit plaque inside the arteries, reduce blood clots and may increase good cholesterol and lower blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week. Other high omega 3 fish choices: cold-water varieties like tuna, trout, sardines and herring.

TIP – Fresh salmon can be pricy, but diners can save money by following the next tip.

3. If you like beef and pork, choose lean cuts, only occasionally and keep portion sizes moderate. Avoid lamb and poultry with skin. These are all high in saturated fats, which contain dietary cholesterol that can build up in the arteries. Researchers are still looking at the causes and effects of eating red meats, but until scientists have definitive answers, moderation is best.  

TIP - Get protein from beans, legumes and nuts. Plant-based proteins are filling and healthful; think minestrone soup with beans or quinoa with pine nuts.

4. Eat more whole grains. Whole grains found in Mediterranean cooking include barley, oats, polenta, rice and couscous. Whole grains have soluble and insoluble fiber, which can help improve blood cholesterol levels by preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Whole grains also are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

TIP – Avoid highly refined white bread, such as that in garlic bread, and white flour pasta.

5. Make fruits and vegetables a staple. In Mediterranean cuisine, a rainbow of vegetables and fruits are used in abundance. Not only do fruits and vegetables add vitamins and fiber to the diet, a new study has found that eating three or more servings per day is associated with a significant decrease in developing peripheral artery disease (PAD) and the foods are also associated with fewer heart attacks and strokes.

TIP – Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables are better than canned. Avoid adding extra salt or sugar for maximum benefit.

6. Use extra-virgin olive oil in place of other fats. Olive oil, which contains monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), may have important health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, MUFAs may lower bad cholesterol and improve the function of blood vessels. They also may help with insulin and blood sugar control, which is good for diabetics.

TIP – Avoid trans fats, such as those in margarine and some commercial baked goods, as they contribute to artery disease

Source: Society for Vascular Surgery

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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