It's thought that 80 percent of heart attacks and related events could be prevented by modifying behaviors -- like adopting a healthy diet. Thus it is reassuring to know that something we can do with our diet actually helps us reduce those risks.
Evidence keeps accumulating that a traditional Mediterranean diet can optimize health. The most recently published study (American Journal of Epidemiology, December 15, 2009) showed a 40% reduced risk of a first heart attack or other heart disease-related event. Past studies of varying sizes and designs have shown that a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of death in people who've had a heart attack, curb the risk of stroke, and boost survival in people living with heart disease.
Specific components of a Mediterranean diet differ from region to region but, generally, the key features include high consumption of olive oil, plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grain cereals, nuts and seeds. Fish is favored over other meat sources with a relatively low consumption of red meat (approximately one serving per month). Alcohol, especially red wine, and dairy products are used in moderation.
Here is a delicious and easy heart-healthy (and cancer-fighting, too!) recipe that incorporates nearly all of the components of a traditional Mediterranean diet.
Vegetarian Lentil Paella
2 large sweet peppers - chopped (red, orange, or yellow or combo)
2 medium onions - chopped (combination of varieties, ~ 1 cup chopped)
6 cloves garlic - peel and then mince
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup lentils (brown) - rinse and pick out any stones
1 cup long-grain brown rice (not instant)
4 cups broth (combination of vegetable and fish broth)
1/8 teaspoon saffron (may use 1/4 tsp. turmeric)
1 pint canned tomatoes
1 cup frozen (thaw ahead of time) peas
1 cup mixed olives (preferably pitted!)
chopped fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish
1) In Dutch oven or large cooking pot, sauté peppers, onions, garlic in olive oil until onions are tender.
2) Add lentils, rice, saffron, and broth to pepper mixture.
3) Bring to boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until both rice and lentils are cooked and liquid is absorbed.
4) Add tomatoes, olives. Heat through.
5) Add peas and cilantro. Heat through.
6) Add salt (if desired) to taste. I did not add any since the olives themselves already contribute a considerable sodium content to the dish.
This recipe makes 4 generous servings. Serve it with any other vegetable, a salad, and some whole grain bread (to make sure to sop every little drop of this delicious dish). A glass of red wine would make it a complete Mediterranean meal. :-)
Photo: Easy to make your own vegetable broth, using vegetable peelings and ends that have been saved in a ziploc bag in the freezer. I added some left-over fish broth to this broth, too. While this was simmering, I chopped the onions and garlic, emptied the dishwasher, swept the floor, and made a cup of green tea to drink.
Photo: Paella ingredients - All the vegetables are locally grown, either from our garden or other farmers. Organic sweet peppers are very hard to find in grocery stores and very expensive when they are available. They are SO easy to freeze during summer and fall to have available during the so-called "dark days".
Photo - Vegetarian Lentil Paella with Rice - a one-pot meal all ready to eat and enjoy. Add a few walnuts to a side apple and cabbage salad with a yogurt-based dressing plus a glass of red wine to drink and I think you would have all the components of a health promoting (and delicious) Mediterranean meal.
"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"
Diana Dyer, MS, RD