We’re always looking for ways to improve ourselves, whether it’s sharpening our minds, building physical strength, or practicing overall wellness. You know that I believe you are what you eat (except when you just have to have a side of fries). Recently I got to meet cardiologist Dr. Sonia Tolani on GMA Strahan & Sara, and she gave us some great advice for keeping one of the most important organs in our body—our hearts—healthy: Get a minimum of six hours of sleep. Do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. And last but not least, eat like a Greek.
What does “eat like a Greek” mean, exactly? Studies show that the heart-healthy Mediterranean style of cooking is the best kind of diet for your heart because it’s rich in good fats and has the power to reduce the risk of heart disease. Like any sort of change, we were a little intimidated at first, so we decided to break it all down:
Plants are your friend. A classic Mediterranean diet centers around plants—and that means about nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies. (Fresh produce is preferred.) Vegetables in this category common to the diet include artichokes, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers, and zucchini. For fruits, apples, avocados, dates and figs, melons, pomegranates, strawberries, and tomatoes are at the top of the list.
Grains are great. This type of eating is packed with whole grains, including options like rice, pasta, legumes, bulgur, farro, and bread. Adding whole grains to meals is a cinch: yogurt with granola or overnight oats in the morning; for lunch, a quinoa salad or hummus on a whole-wheat pita; and for dinner, pita pizzas topped with veggies or farro salad alongside poultry or fish is ideal.
Fat is good. Good fat is actually a thing. (Sadly, butter is not one of them.) One to three servings of dairy products, like yogurt and cheese, can be consumed daily. Olive oil also is considered a main source of good fat and is used for everything from cooking to drizzling. (Pro tip: Sprinkle herbs and spices over a dish of extra virgin olive oil, and you’ve got a delicious dip for whole-grain bread.) The Mediterranean diet favors poultry and healthy-fat fish like salmon and tuna, which should be eaten two times a week. Unfortunately for all you burger fans out there, red meat is not on the regular menu and should be consumed no more than two times a month.
Get creative. Mediterranean cooks primarily pass over salt in favor of herbs and spices to add bold flavor, a little color, and important micronutrients to their dishes. Among the favorites are parsley, thyme, saffron (only a pinch is needed), basil, rosemary, oregano, sage, and za’atar (a blend of thyme, marjoram, oregano, and other spices).
Go nuts. We mean this literally. Nuts are a plant-based food and are high in the good kind of fat; they’re also a great source of fiber and protein. This doesn’t mean you should eat mounds of them at a time; nuts have a high caloric content and so, like most fatty foods, should be consumed in moderation (i.e. one handful per day). As far as which nuts are concerned, we like almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and cashews, and apparently Mediterranean pine nuts are tasty and great in recipes, too.
Raise a glass. Yes, it’s true: Wine (preferably red, as it’s higher in antioxidants), in combination with a healthy diet, is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it’s been shown in some studies to reduce the risk of heart disease and depression. However, make sure to check in with your doctor first and track your intake: no more than five ounces (approximately a full glass) a day for women, and no more than 10 ounces for men.