As a VA registered dietitian, I’ve been helping a Veteran, Mr. H, over the past year with his health goals to lose weight and avoid cholesterol medications. A self-proclaimed “meat and potatoes guy,” he skipped breakfast, ate out most days for lunch and dinner, and snacked on potato chips.
During our first appointment, we reviewed the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) and set some goals.
Over the past year, Mr. H lost 15 pounds. He decreased his total cholesterol from 208 to 169, decreased his LDL from 162 to 111 and increased his healthy (“good”) HDL from 39 to 43. Based on National Heart, Lung and Blood institute guidelines, his numbers are now within the desired range for men over 20 years of age!
I knew that the MedDiet would be a good starting point for Mr. H, as there is strong evidence supporting its heart-health benefits. The MedDiet emphasizes heart healthy fats from oils, nuts, seeds, avocado and fatty fish, like salmon. It’s rich in plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. These plants provide fiber and anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals.
He found several things he enjoyed eating
The main protein sources are fish, chicken, turkey and eggs, along with legumes and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Red meat, processed meat, sweets and processed foods are minimal. When Mr. H looked over the foods, he found several things he enjoyed eating.
Even when armed with a list of healthy foods that you enjoy eating, change can be hard. Mr. H and I talked about how the MedDiet is not a diet that you are “on or off.” It’s a new lifestyle. With a lifestyle change, we focus on small changes over time until it becomes your new normal.
For example, he stopped eating fast food at lunch and switched to a sandwich on whole wheat bread. He has fruit and yogurt for breakfast and snacks on fruit during the day. He still enjoys a large steak on occasion, and recently had corn dogs for dinner. But he’s modified his lifestyle to be more in line with the Mediterranean diet. Mr. H still struggles to include vegetables daily, but instead of focusing on what’s missing, we celebrate all the positive changes he’s made so far.
Curious to embrace the MedDiet?
Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Do you use mostly animal fat? Try peanut butter instead of butter on toast or vinaigrette instead of creamy dressing.
- Can you add a fruit or vegetable with snacks? Instead of cheese and crackers, try cheese with half the crackers and add celery sticks or an apple.
- Lacking legumes? Try adding a can of low sodium chickpeas to a salad.
- If your cooking skills are rusty, check to see if your local VA offers Healthy Teaching Kitchen classes, which teach Veterans and their families healthy cooking skills.
And of course, you can always contact your local VA to set up an appointment with a dietitian. He or she can guide and coach you toward lasting change and a happy heart.
Courtney Reynolds, RD, is an outpatient dietitian at the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center. She provides nutrition education and counseling to Veterans to help them achieve their health goals. As a Veteran herself, she finds it rewarding to give back to her fellow Veterans.