Is a Mediterranean diet the answer to a healthy heart for the elderly?

It is a sad fact that our risk of heart disease increases as we age. The good news is that there are actions we can undertake to reduce our cardiovascular risk. What we eat is one. The food provided by the catering team for those in care and residential homes, can have a positive effect on the health of their hearts.

Rachael Venditti RNutr from allmanhall, the leading and award-winning independent food procurement specialist who supports care home catering teams with practical nutritional advice, talks about catering for good heart health. 

A Mediterranean diet has been proven time and time again to be beneficial for many aspects of health, including heart and cardiovascular health. Whilst sadly we do not benefit from the balmy Mediterranean weather, we can still take advantage of the dietary principles followed by many traditional Mediterranean cultures such as in Spain, Italy and Greece where rates of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes are lower. 


What we mean by a traditional Mediterranean diet is a diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish including both white and oily fish such as salmon, kippers and mackerel, wholegrains, unsalted nuts and seeds, lean meat and chicken, low-fat dairy products and unsaturated fats such as olive and vegetable oil. It also means a reduced intake of saturated fat such as butter, lard and ghee and other animal products such as cream and red meat.

There are some specific foods which have been found to either increase or decrease cholesterol levels which, if high, demonstrate an increased risk of heart disease such as heart attack and stroke. This table illustrates this:

Foods that increase cardiovascular risk Foods that reduce cardiovascular risk
Saturated fat e.g. butter, full fat dairy products, visible fat on meat Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, rapeseed oil and avocados  
High fat, high sugar foods such as biscuits, cakes, chocolate, ice cream and sweet pastries Polyunsaturated fat found in sunflower, corn and rapeseed oils, nuts and seeds and oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel 


Foods high in trans fats such as margarines and fast foods as well as those listed above in the high fat, high sugar foods list Wholegrains such as those found in wholegrain bread, brown rice, quinoa, barley, high fibre breakfast cereals and oats


  Plant stanols and sterols which can be found in cholesterol lowering products such as Flora Proactiv and Benecol 

NB: these must be eaten in a particular dosage each day to have the desired effect


Tips on catering for good heart health in care homes:

ï         Incorporate plenty of fresh (or frozen) fruit, vegetables and wholegrains into your dishes wherever possible

ï         Cook fresh wherever possible and limit the use of processed items

ï         Cook with olive or vegetable oil rather than butter

ï         Incorporate heart healthy ingredients into sweet treats such as oat-based cakes or flapjacks for mid-afternoon tea 

ï         Offer oily fish on the menu regularly once or twice per week such as baked salmon at lunch or sardines on toast for tea

ï         Reduce red meat on the menu and choose leaner cuts of meat