Need another reason to start the Mediterranean diet? It helps lower your blood pressure

There’s much to be said about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and one study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition adds one more: Older adults who followed the Mediterranean diet for half a year exhibited considerable improvement in their systolic blood pressure and endothelial function – two factors that are greatly linked to the development of cardiovascular disease.

In particular, a high systolic blood pressure – that is, the top number of a blood pressure measurement – has been linked to stiffness in the arteries, thyroid dysfunction, and even diabetes. The condition, which is called an isolated systolic hypertension, poses a higher risk for adults who are beyond 65 years old, as this can result in complications such as stroke, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease. The ideal systolic pressure should be less than 130 mm Hg.

Endothelial dysfunction, on the other hand, is an impairment in the function of the endothelium cells that line the heart and blood vessels. This results in the inability of the arteries to dilate, which can lead to coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis, which are precursors for a stroke or a heart attack.

For the study, researchers in Australia looked at how a strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet can improve blood pressure and endothelial function in older adults. They involved a total of 166 men and women, all over the age of 64, to participate in a six-month study. Each individual was either assigned to consume a Mediterranean diet or their usual diet for the duration of the study. For people who were chosen to eat the Mediterranean diet, food options included plant foods, abundant olive oil, with minimal red meat and processed foods.

The participants’ home blood pressure was taken for five consecutive days at baseline and recorded, while their endothelial function was measured using flow-mediated dilation. During the study, researchers took their blood pressure and endothelial function and noted these. Regarding dietary intake, this was monitored using 3D weighed food records, which were analyzed and adjusted for differences between groups.

Based on the results, those who ate the Mediterranean diet had a lower systolic blood pressure and improved their endothelial functions in six months.

Getting a head start on the Mediterranean diet

By far, the Mediterranean diet isn’t only healthy – it’s delicious, too. Many people who have switched to this style of eating swear on it. If you’re interested to try it out for yourself, but don’t know where to start, here are some things to get you started.

  • Go for vegetables and fruits, and switch to whole grains. As you start, make it a point to get at least seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Instead of processed grains, go for whole-grain rice, pasta, bread, and cereal.
  • Go nuts. Make almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts your snack options. Instead of buying processed peanut butter, choose (or make your own) natural options instead. You can also try tahini (blended sesame seeds) for dips and spreads.
  • Avoid butter. A healthy replacement for butter is olive oil, which is a staple in Mediterranean dishes. Use olive oil in salads and bread as well.
  • Add some spice to your diets. Instead of salt, season using tastier and healthier spices.
  • Go fish. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, and herring are some healthy fish that you can eat once or twice a week. A good idea for cooking fish is to grill them – it tastes amazing and you don’t need a lot of cleaning.
  • Limit your red meat. Switch to fish and poultry instead. When you have to eat red meat, go for the lean parts and keep your portions small. Avoid processed meats as much as possible.

One of the hallmarks of the Mediterranean diet is moderate consumption of wine. However, consult with a healthcare professional before having a glass at dinner. If you’re not into drinking, don’t fret: Purple grape juice could be an equally delicious alternative to wine. (Related: 11 Delicious Key Ingredients that Make The Mediterranean Diet So Nutritious.)

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