1. Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is a heart-healthy meal plan inspired by what and how the people living by the Mediterranean Sea eat. For it to be good for the heart, the diet encourages you to eat food containing healthy fat and food that is plant-based—except coconut, which is a rich source of the bad fat. According to the Harvard Health Publications, the meal plan doesn’t prescribe specific amounts of any food group. It instead offers a pyramid. In the pyramid, plant-based food is at the base; above that are fish and seafood; then dairy. Meat and sweets are at the top of the pyramid, so one should eat them in very small amounts.
The Mediterranean Diet limits your consumption of saturated fat and trans fat, which both contribute to heart disease. That means:
- Eat more fish.
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids lower bad cholesterol levels and help prevent heart disease and stroke.
- Lower your intake of red meat to a few times a month.
Red meat is any meat that comes from mammalian muscle, for example beef, lamb, and pork. It’s been found to have high levels of saturated fat.
- Use olive oil or canola oil when you cook; not butter or palm oil.
Olive oil has the monounsaturated fat that helps reduce bad cholesterol levels. Canola oil has the lowest saturated fat content among commonly used oils like sunflower, corn, and even olive oils. On the other hand, butter, as well as margarine and palm oil, is high on saturated fat.
- Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor your food.
Limiting your sodium intake helps reduce blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
- Eat only a handful of nuts, but avoid sweetened or heavily salted ones.
Legumes and nuts are also part of the Mediterranean Diet, because they contain good fat (the unsaturated kind) and carbohydrates. They’re high in calories, though, so you shouldn’t eat more than a handful a day.
- Go for low-fat dairy.
Full-fat dairy is high in saturated fat.
In this diet, your carbs are plant-based food like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Examples of whole grains are brown rice, whole rye, quinoa, and oatmeal. Pasta and cereal also have their whole grain variety.
Whole grains are packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium; they reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. They also aid in bowel movement.
Strict followers of the Mediterranean Diet eat an average of nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. That’s about two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables every day.
2. DASH Diet
DASH stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension (high blood pressure).” The DASH Diet is designed to help treat or prevent hypertension. It controls your sodium intake and makes you eat food that lowers your blood pressure—food rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The diet also has other benefits like prevention of heart disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
Those who follow the DASH Diet eat foods that are low in saturated fat; a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Similar to the Mediterranean Diet, its source of protein is low-fat dairy, fish, poultry (with the skin and fat scraped off), and nuts. Red meat and sweets are down to a minimum.
The difference between the DASH and Mediterranean diets is that the former has daily serving requirements for each food group, while the latter has recommendations. The Mediterranean recommends that each meal be based on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, olive oil, legumes or nuts. With it, you get hummus, Greek salad, or baked chicken with roasted vegetables. The DASH gets you roasted vegetables and grilled chicken on brown rice, or chicken salad sandwich. Check out the serving requirement for the DASH Diet below:
3. Japanese Diet
The Japanese can live long—up to 85 years old on average. As of 2016, Japan has the third highest life expectancy, while the Philippines is quite far behind—161 from a list of 224—with the average life expectancy of 69 years old.
And because Japan has the lowest obesity rate in the developed world, one can’t help thinking that the Japanese are eating right and well—yes, even if white rice and noodles are a staple food.
According to the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo, those who adhere to Japan’s recommended dietary guidelines are 15 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or stroke.
Here’s the illustrated version of Japan’s dietary guidelines:
While ours and that of the U.S. are shown as a pyramid or a plate, Japan’s dietary guidelines are presented as a spinning top that’s divided into food group layers. Also, their guidelines have pictures of the dishes themselves, rather than ingredients, so they’re easier for more people to understand and abide by, including those who don’t prepare their own food or those who eat out instead. At the top (and widest) section, there are grain-based dishes like bread, rice, ramen, and musubi. Below that are the vegetable-based dishes like salads and cooked greens, which are then followed by fish and meat dishes. Milk and fruits occupy the bottom-most (and thinnest) layer, which means they have the smallest servings.
If you notice, there’s an image of a person running on the top to keep it spinning. This shows that physical activity or exercise is essential to be healthy with this high-carb, low-fat diet. By having a glass of water in the middle, the guide also places importance in drinking water or tea. A note on the side says to limit processed food consumption.
According to researchers, the Japanese diet maintains good health because of the quality of food in Japan, the Japanese’ low consumption of processed food and unhealthy fat (they instead consume a lot of seafood, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids), and because of the high activity levels of the Japanese people (the average Japanese walks over 7,000 steps a day).
There are some valuable things we can learn from this diet: that eating real food at the right amount makes us go a long way; and that we can eat refined carbs like white rice, but in exchange we’ll need to eat food that are low in fat and to exercise to keep ourselves fit and healthy.
Follow Stephanie on Instagram