February is Heart Month. This month brings awareness to the importance of cardiovascular health and what we can do to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Making healthier food choices is key to a heart-healthy lifestyle. One way to start making more heart-healthy food choices is to eat the Mediterranean way. The Mediterranean style of eating includes foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains and a lower intake of meat and dairy foods. Eating the Mediterranean way can help lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar and also lower your chance of developing health problems like diabetes and heart-related issues.
Wondering how to start?
We have rounded up some easy-to-make and delicious Mediterranean recipes created by UHN’s Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program. These recipes were originally published on the Health e-University website.
Fatim Ajwani, Registered Dietitian and Toronto Rehab’s Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program expert shares some surprising health benefits that can be found in these recipes. Enjoy!
Skip this weekend’s pizza delivery by making your own homemade pizza! This pizza is low-sodium and is highly customizable so you can add any of your favourite pizza toppings.
“Cooking onion, garlic and tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil provides an excellent combination of antioxidants that have many health benefits. In many Mediterranean countries, this sauce, called Sofrito, is used as a delicious topping for pizza, pasta, fish and vegetables.” – Fatim
Yields: 2 – 4 servings
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 package yeast (around 2-1/4 tsp)
- 1-1/3 cup warm water
Homemade tomato sauce
- 4 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1 can low-sodium tomato paste
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small yellow onion, minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp white sugar
- ¼ cup mozzarella, shredded
- 1 cup red, green and yellow peppers
- 2 grilled chicken breasts
- ¼ cup baby arugula
- ¼ cup basil, chopped
- Add warm water, extra virgin olive oil, honey, yeast and whole wheat flour to a large mixing bowl. When adding the flour, make sure to add it in increments.
- Mix the dough with your hands, then roll it out to a long rectangular shape.
- Lay out your dough flat on a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet and set it aside to rest.
- Place a medium saucepan on the stove over medium heat, add olive oil, then sauté onion and garlic for a few minutes.
- Add in the fresh ripe tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes and dried basil, and mix together.
- Add low-sodium tomato paste and sugar. Stir until it reaches a sauce-like consistency.
- Let the sauce cool, then add to the dough.
- Put cheese, peppers, slices of grilled chicken and any other desired toppings on the dough.
- Set oven at 475°F and bake pizza for 25-30 minutes.
- Add arugula and basil once the pizza is done baking so the leaves don’t shrivel in the oven.
Green bean salad
This quick and easy-to-make side salad is a great addition to any lunch or dinner – and is a perfect way to start eating the Mediterranean way.
“Frozen vegetables can be an excellent substitute for fresh during the winter. They contain just as many nutrients (or even more) than fresh and can be a time saver as they are already cut and washed. Try to fill half your plate at lunch and dinner with colourful fresh or frozen vegetables.” – Fatim
Yields: 6 servings
- 1 bag of green beans
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp sliced almonds
- Put a large pot of water on the stove, bring to a boil and add green beans.
- Cook green beans for five minutes or until fork tender.
- Remove beans from the water and let cool while you start making salad dressing.
- In a small container mix olive oil, red wine vinegar and 3 cloves of minced garlic.
- Pour dressing over the beans, mix and let the beans cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.
This Mediterranean hummus dip is perfect for an afternoon or late-night snack. Pair with low-sodium pita chips or vegetables.
“Legumes, like chickpeas, beans and lentils are full of nutrients like fibre, protein and minerals. A hummus or bean dip is a tasty way to make your snack more balanced and keep you full longer. Also try adding legumes to soups and salads.” – Fatim
Yields: 6 servings
- 1 can “no salt added” chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 tbsp tahini or ground sesame seed paste
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp paprika
- Garnish with parsley
- Add extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh lemon juice, tahini or ground sesame seed paste, chickpeas, cumin and paprika to a food processor.
- Blend on and off until hummus is a creamy paste texture.
- Serve in a dish, garnish with parsley if desired.
Take this quiz about your eating habits and receive tips on small changes you can make to eat the Mediterranean way.
Which heart-healthy, Mediterranean recipe was your favourite? Take a picture of your meal and tag us on social media @UHNfoundation.