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The Mediterranean Diet is the Best Diet for a Healthy Heart

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The Mediterranean Diet is the Best Diet for a Healthy Heart

Feb 04, 2016

Diet enthusiasts talk and blog about it all the time—the Mediterranean diet. It can be difficult to follow, but it’s one of the better-known diets for a healthy heart. Medical director of Preventive Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation Dr. Lillian Khor talks with Dr. Kirtly Jones about why the Mediterranean diet is best to prevent heart disease and how to fit it into your and your family’s lifestyle.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Jones: "Eat this. Don't eat that." "Oops, we changed our mind." Gosh, it seems like every year, we get something new for the recommendations for your diet. This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Health Care and we're going to talk about diet and your heart today on The Scope.

Announcer: Covering all aspects of women's health, this is The Seven Domains of Women's Health with Dr. Kirtly Jones on The Scope.

Dr. Jones: Okay. I'm little tired of being told what to eat, but actually I'm old enough that I really care about what is the best diet for my heart. Today in The Scope studio, we have Dr. Lillian Khor, a specialist in preventative cardiology, who is going to give us the straight scoop about the diet for our heart. And it turns out, this is one of the seven simple steps in terms of your heart health. So let's get what is right up-to-the-minute, the most recent recommendations. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Khor.

Dr. Khor: Thank you.

Dr. Jones: All right. What's new or what's old and what should I have for lunch?

Dr. Khor: Well, I think I'll summarize it by saying that the diet that we most well studied both in prevention of heart disease and treatment and management after a cardiovascular event is the Mediterranean-style diet. Now, that's not to say that . . .

Dr. Jones: Pizza, pizza.

Dr. Khor: Not quite.

Dr. Jones: Oh, rats.

Dr. Khor: But that's not to say that other diets . . .

Dr. Jones: Lasagna.

Dr. Khor: Are not good, they just haven't been studied to the extent. Essentially, the main components of a Meditteranean diet are . . . I think there are about eight things to think about. Number one, you want to eat more fruits and vegetables. We average that to about four to five every day. Legumes, legumes, legumes. They love peas, lentils, and beans. Nuts and oils, especially oils like what was studied, olive oil. So in a lot of the studies, particularly the most recent one, which was a randomized respective controlled trial called the PREDIMED study, four tablespoons of olive oil per day and an ounce of nuts a day reduced cardiovascular events.

What else? You've got . . . Now, this is the part you may not like, less sugar, less than one sweetened drink a day.

Dr. Jones: I don't do that. That's easy for me.

Dr. Khor: That's easy

Dr. Jones: Maybe not for others.

Dr. Khor: That's good. Less salt, so we're talking about not extreme salt deprivation, about 2300 milligrams, which is about a teaspoon of salt a day. But that's a teaspoon for the whole day, of all your three meals or four meals or whatever you're going to have.

Dr. Jones: And a lot of prepared food, even things like bread that you buy at the store or salad dressing, there's a lot of sodium in that.

Dr. Khor: Yes, there's hidden salt in everything, including ice cream. You wouldn't think of that.

Dr. Jones: No, I don't eat that.

Dr. Khor: Yeah.

Dr. Jones: For sure.

Dr. Khor: A lot of hidden salt in the comfort foods that we love. Some of the guidelines also include less processed meats for that very reason. There is a lot salt in processed meats to make them taste good and to make them last longer.

Then, the other components to the diet would be . . . this part is a little hard, especially for me with kids, is having increased whole grains. They say at least half your grains should be whole and that means healthy grains like whole-wheat flour, brown rice, brown pasta, which could be a little bit hard to take for some.

Dr. Jones: I think I could get all those things on top of a pizza crust. The nuts maybe not so much, but let's see, all those legumes and some healthy protein. Anything new that we're not supposed to do in terms of our new dietary restrictions? I know that carbs were big and fat was bad and then people decided maybe good fats were good and carbs were not so good. It's really kind of hard. I guess sugar is not good.

Dr. Khor: Sugar, I think that's our biggest addiction here in the US.

Dr. Jones: Yeah

Dr. Khor: Is our predilection for sugar and hence the focus on Diet X and Diet Y where you're using artificial sweeteners, but just because of that taste that we have for sugar.

But, yeah, less sugar and probably, I would say, not so much a focus on saturated fat. I think that's a moving target and that's one of the things that omnivores or carnivorous-type people might find difficult is where is the saturated fat coming from? Is it meat? Is it dairy? Is it a bit of both? Or is it in combination with what you eat and drink? So the saturated fat question is still very controversial and we're still at the stage where we're saying, "Eat less in moderation, but you don't have to take it out completely from your diet."

Dr. Jones: Well, the good news is that this is not an expensive diet and if you cook at home, you can eat fresh and you can control your sugar and your salt so probably one of the major efforts would be not to eat out so much because you can really control the quality of your diet and the expense if you do it at home. But that takes some preparation and time. Maybe the whole family needs to cook together.

Dr. Khor: Yeah, I think that takes planning and that's the number one word about having a healthy, regular diet is taking the time, maybe once a week, to plan your meals in advance because if you plan, you also control what you shop. You automatically reduce what you spend, and you optimize what you're going to be eating on the table.

Dr. Jones: So the Mediterranean diet isn't just for rich people. Anybody can do it. You just make your decisions. Cook it at home, get your kids into it, get your honey into it and listen to your heartbeat.

Dr. Khor: Absolutely. I think somebody calculated out there that you can have a Mediterranean diet for about $1.50 to $2.00 a meal.

Dr. Jones: Great. Well, I'm onto it. I'm up for it and thank you, Lillian. Thank you for joining us on The Scope.

Announcer: Covering all aspects of women's health, this is The Seven Domains of Women's Health with Dr. Kirtly Jones on The Scope.