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Eating Your Way to a Healthier Heart (The Mediterranean Diet)


Heart disease is no laughing matter. I know this from experience. Last year, a month prior to Passover, my husband had a minor heart attack. What began as seemingly innocent heartburn pain turned into 100% artery blockage and a diagnosis of myocardial infarction. Luckily for us, the minor vessel was cleared and my husband had a great prognosis.

With such a diagnosis comes dietary changes. Since we were so close to Passover and I, of course, insisted on hosting not one, but two Passover seders, it was my job as a wife, hostess and dietitian to alter the menu to meet my husband’s dietary restrictions. I pondered how to host a seder without the traditional fare, brisket included. After much debate, I decided on a brisket which I trimmed clean of all the offending fat. In light of the recent circumstances, it really did not feel 100% “kosher” to be making brisket part of our holiday meal. Despite my misgivings, the five pound brisket was placed in the top oven to roast for the requisite 4-5 hours. Whether it was divine intervention or sheer stupidity on my part, the brisket pan slid from the oven and proceeded to land on my arm. It took an ER visit, second degree burns, a cancelled seder and $50 worth of lost meat for me to realize that red meat was no longer an option for our family.

Maintaining a low fat diet can conjure up images of dry grilled chicken breasts and broiled fish topped solely with a slice of lemon for flavoring. This however does not have to be the case.

When we look across the globe; those who live in the Mediterranean region appear to have lower incidence of heart disease and elevated cholesterol. Key components of Mediterranean cuisine include whole grains; monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados; polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, and trout); fat from plant sources, like flaxseed and moderate amounts of wine and red meat.

Lucky for us, even if you do not live in the Mediterranean, your family can easily adopt this healthy and flavorful lifestyle.  Below are some simple ideas to introduce Mediterranean foods to your family.

  • Make meatballs and meatloaf with ground chicken or turkey. Mix 1-2 tsp. ground flax seed into the meat.
  • Dredge fish in a mixture of fresh herbs, ground almonds and whole wheat bread crumbs; spray with olive oil and bake.
  • Spray eggplant slices with olive oil; season with fresh cracked pepper – serve grilled or roasted.
  • Snack on nuts and seeds. Watch portion size. Even though nuts and seeds contain heart healthy fats, they are also quite high in calories.
  • Greek yogurt makes a healthy and delicious snack with 14g of protein per 6 oz serving. Plain Greek yogurt can also be a healthy alternative to sour cream.
  • Give lunch a healthy twist. To replace mayonnaise, mash ¼ of a small avocado. Spread on whole wheat bread and top with turkey or chicken.

Remember; a healthy diet can be flavorful. Be adventurous- take a dietary trip to the Mediterranean. Your heart will thank you!

For Mediterranean recipe ideas click here.