Americans may enjoy a high standard of living, but we could learn a thing or two about quality of life from Mediterranean cultures. There’s a reason we like to visit places like Greece and Italy on vacation: these cultures are known for their outstanding cuisine and laid-back lifestyles that emphasize social connection and taking time to enjoy the good things in life. Imagine living like that all the time! The fact is that many of those who do have a much better life expectancy and a much lower rate of chronic diseases.
America’s fast-paced lifestyle and convenience-based food culture isn’t doing our health any favors. In fact, we have a higher rate of chronic disease and a lower life expectancy than any other industrialized nation. This is no surprise when you consider that the Standard American Diet (SAD) consists mostly of processed foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar, and salt, but low in fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants. This is a perfect recipe for chronic inflammation, which has been found to play a key role in almost every major health condition, including the metabolic problems (such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and obesity) which threaten so many Americans.
This is why more and more health practitioners recommend imitating the Mediterranean lifestyle. It turns out that the standard Mediterranean Diet is a perfect match for a heart-healthy anti-inflammatory diet. It’s full of fresh fruits and veggies, healthy fats, and whole grains, which are all excellent for reducing inflammation. It’s also full of flavor, with plenty of herbs, garlic, and lemon, and it’s not afraid of a little red wine and dark chocolate, either. This food is meant to be savored. You won’t even miss your burgers and fries.
Adopting a Mediterranean-inspired lifestyle can add years to your life and life to your years. Follow these 14 steps to transition to an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet:
1. Use extra-virgin olive oil
Olive oil is a staple of Italian and Greek food, and for good reason. Not only does it add great flavor, it’s full of antioxidants and healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation and support heart health. The trick is to make sure you get cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil, since high heat or chemical processing will destroy these nutrients.
2. Toss all soy, corn, safflower, and vegetable oils
These oils may be cheap, but they are highly processed, often extracted with chemicals, and easily oxidized, which deprives them of nutrient value and adds to your toxic load. They also tend to be overly high in omega-6 fatty acids. Research shows that having more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can increase inflammation.
3. Avoid canola oil
Also called rapeseed oil, canola oil can been marketed as heart-healthy because it’s low in saturated fat. But it’s been so genetically modified and highly processed, it’s closer to an industrial oil than a food. It’s even been banned in Europe, due to research that shows it may be bad for the heart.
4. Take home three different types of fish each week
Fish makes up a healthy portion of the Mediterranean Diet, which favors lean meat with healthy fats over red meat, which is considered inflammatory. Salmon, perch, trout, albacore tuna, sardines, and mackerel are all rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
5. Roast or boil a whole chicken for the week
This is a great time-saver and money-saver, since one chicken will leave you with enough meat for multiple meals. Chicken is highly versatile for cooking; Google “Mediterranean Diet + chicken” and you’ll come up with enough great recipes to last you all year.
6. Eat just one serving of fruit at a time
Fresh fruit is full of antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory nutrients, but it’s also high in sugar, so you don’t want to overdo it. A serving size is smaller than you might think; for example, two fresh figs or 1/2 cup of orange juice is equal to one serving. Take the time to learn serving sizes during the first week and keep them in mind as you transition.
7. Use fresh herbs such as rosemary, basil, oregano, and parsley
Expand your flavor profile by seasoning your food with a rich variety of herbs and spices. Not only will they help turn you into a master chef, they are also great for your health. Herbs are nutrient-rich and high in polyphenols and other phytochemicals that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
8. Teach yourself to make sugar-free dark chocolate desserts
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and linked with better heart health, as long as the sugar content isn’t too high. Try making a simple chocolate sauce with unsweetened dark chocolate powder, water, olive oil, vanilla, stevia, and sunflower lecithin. You can also add other flavors, such as fresh ginger or lemon.
9. The second week, add fruits and nuts to your chocolate desserts
Nuts are a great source of healthy fats, and berries are full of antioxidants. Once you perfect your basic chocolate recipe, try adding berries or chopped nuts such as macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios or hazelnuts. Scoop it out in tablespoons onto a small cookie pan and freeze until serving.
10. Eat your meals with other people
In Mediterranean cultures, cooking and eating is a communal activity. Food is prepared and enjoyed in a leisurely fashion with good company, good conversation, and plenty of laughter. This reduces stress, makes digestion easier, and is good for your heart in every way.
11. Enjoy a little organic wine
Red wine is high in antioxidants and has been associated with heart health in moderate amounts. It’s important to select a pure, organic wine produced without genetically modified grapes or yeast and without chemicals, preservatives, or added sulfites. Go for quality over quantity.
12. Drink plenty of water during the day
Most of us don’t drink as much water as we need. To figure out how much you need, divide your body weight by half, then drink that many ounces of water per day. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, ½ of 160 = 80 pounds. 80 pounds is equal to 80 ounces of water, or about 10 cups a day.
13. Try a new type of herbal tea a few times a week
Drinking herbal tea is a wonderfully relaxing ritual and another great way to get the health benefits of herbs. Some good options are peppermint, lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, and rosemary.
14. Season with lemon and lime
A squeeze of lemon or lime adds a bright, punchy flavor to your dish without compromising your health the way salt or sugar does. Citrus fruits are full of antioxidants as well as vitamin C, which can reduce inflammatory damage by helping with tissue repair. They are also great at flushing toxins from the body.
Supplements That Reduce Inflammation
Good health starts with a healthy diet, but it doesn’t end there. While it would be ideal if we could get all the nutrients we need from food alone, the truth is that the world has changed, and food has changed with it. Industrialization has robbed the soil of nutrients while adding high levels of toxins into our environment, generating free radicals that can damage cells and promote inflammation. Dietary supplements can help fill those nutrient gaps and add extra power to help provide defense against the damaging effects of free radicals.
Here are some of the best supplements for promoting normal inflammation responses:
Omega-3s: If you are vegetarian, or concerned out the toxins often found in fish, and you don’t think you can eat fish several times a week, you might want to take a fish oil or flaxseed oil supplement to make sure you are getting enough anti-inflammatory omega-3s in your diet.
Astaxanthin: Astaxanthin is the carotenoid that gives salmon and shellfish their pink color. Because it’s only found in pink seafood or algae, it’s hard to get it from food alone. But it’s considered one of the most potent antioxidants in nature, and has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits.
Curcumin: Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric root, is a highly effective natural anti-inflammatory. But the curcumin content in turmeric is only about 2%, so it’s better to take a supplement that delivers a concentrated curcumin extract. Curcumin is also difficult for the body to absorb and metabolize, so it’s important that your supplement includes other ingredients known to help boost absorption and bioavailability.
At Smarter Nutrition, we’ve cracked the code of bioavailability to create the most potent and effective curcumin supplement available. Smarter Curcumin skips a step in the metabolism process by using active curcumin metabolites that are instantly usable by the body. Standardized to 95% tetra-hydro-curcuminoids, it’s more potent than a standard curcumin extract. We combine it with powerful herbal bioenhancers like ginger, astragalus, and ginseng, and deliver it all in a unique oil-based capsule to naturally boost the absorption of fat-soluble curcumin.
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