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Look around the world, and you’ll find that certain eating patterns are linked to lower rates of heart disease, obesity, and other health conditions.
Eating habits in France, Asia, and the Mediterranean region have especially interested experts. Here’s a tour of the disease-fighting components in these diets.
Check out the med
More than a dozen countries border the Mediterranean Sea. While there’s no single diet in the region, these countries do share similar dietary characteristics. A Mediterranean-style diet typically includes an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, beans, potatoes, olive oil, and low to moderate amounts of fish and wine. It’s consistently ranked as one of the best diets, and for good reason: This approach to eating can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
Figure in the French
Even though the French population tends to eat a high amount of saturated fats, they have a low incidence of heart disease. The French regularly consume red wine, and although the antioxidants in red wine may partly explain their advantage in heart disease, the French diet also includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and fish—foods that promote heart health. And many French people only eat two or three times a day with limited snacking between meals, an eating pattern that has been linked to a lower risk for obesity.
Add some Asian fare
Obesity rates in Japan and China are significantly lower than those in the U.S. The Asian eating pattern includes plenty of green leafy vegetables, soy, tofu, noodles, and rice. In fact, Asian diets are often loaded with plant-based foods and include only limited amounts of dairy and poultry. Fish is another mealtime regular, while red meat is a rarity.
Indian cuisine emphasizes vegetables and legumes (beans and peas). Their curry dishes are typically seasoned with turmeric, cumin, coriander, and ginger—flavorful alternatives to sodium. Limiting sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet.
To add some global wisdom to your own diet, take these steps:
- Enjoy smaller portions. Calories count, so eating less is a smart way to keep your waistline trim.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. About 80% of the U.S. population doesn’t eat enough fruit, and nearly 90% doesn’t eat enough veggies. Aim for 1.5–2 cups of fruit and 2–3 cups of veggies every day.
- Consume legumes, nuts, and seeds. Legumes are rich in fiber and protein. Several nuts and seeds contain healthy polyunsaturated oils and vitamin E.
- Cook with olive oil rather than butter and other solid fats. Olive oil, a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet, contains healthy monounsaturated fats. It makes a good substitute for the saturated fat found in butter, shortening, and hard stick margarine.
- Eat less fatty meat and processed meat. Substitute with other sources of protein, such as seafood, eggs, lean poultry, and legumes.
- Avoid consumption of high-fat dairy foods. Nonfat and low-fat options have less saturated fat.
- Choose whole-grain breads and cereals. They contain fiber as well as iron, folate, magnesium, several B vitamins, and other nutrients.
- Season food with herbs and spices instead of salt to keep sodium levels low. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults should aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day.
When it comes to preventing chronic disease, diet isn’t the only factor. Being physically active is also important. So consider getting out of that kitchen chair and taking a brisk walk after your meal. With a globally inspired diet plus regular exercise, you can reap a world of healthy benefits.
Online Medical Reviewer: Nelda Mercer, RD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2022
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