The dietary pattern of Mediterranean countries is based on the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, legumes and fish. And it is thanks to all of these that following a Mediterranean diet can help with peripheral arterial disease.

Although over the years the more traditional characteristics of this way of eating have been lost, it is good to remember how to do it in a healthy way. If you are interested to know, you will find more information throughout the article.

What is peripheral arterial disease?

This is a condition in which the blood vessels that supply the limbs, stomach and head are narrower than normal. It is usually the arteries in the legs that are most commonly affected.

As the American Heart Association points out, the origin of the problem lies in arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis is the accumulation of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the walls of the arteries, causing them to harden. Over time, the plaques can greatly narrow the passage of blood or obstruct them completely.

The most common symptoms affecting the lower extremities involve the following:

  • Cramping.
  • Pain, numbness or heaviness in the leg muscles.
  • Tiredness in the hips that occurs when walking or climbing stairs and disappears with rest.
  • Sores or sores on toes and legs that are slow to heal.
  • Pale color.

It is important to pay attention to them, since many times the symptoms are mild and it is difficult to diagnose the disease. When present, the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke is higher. But it can be prevented.

Why is the Mediterranean diet an ally against peripheral arterial disease?

The help that the Mediterranean diet can offer for peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is very promising. This is thanks to the large body of evidence that exists on this dietary pattern and its benefits on cardiovascular health.

The first observations were made with the PREDIMED study. It found that participants who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower incidence of PAD than the control group. They followed a low-fat pattern.

The experts hypothesized that the beneficial effect was due to a protective action on vascular walls, blood pressure, blood lipids and glucose levels.

On the other hand, Rallidis et al. reported in a publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet improved endothelial function in obese people. The finding is positive, as this condition is clearly associated with dysfunction of blood vessel walls.

Similarly, a protective effect on blood vessels has been found with a pattern of Mediterranean diet and physical exercise in healthy elderly people. It seems to be due to the presence of some nutrients such as vitamin C, E and fiber.

This was observed in an Italian study of people with type 2 diabetes. A diet rich in these components (such as the Mediterranean diet) reduces the risk of arteriosclerosis.

Tips for following the Mediterranean diet and preventing peripheral arterial disease

The Mediterranean diet may have some variations, depending on the different regions that compose it. However, it is always based on the consumption of local, seasonal products and traditional cuisine.

But adherence studies are not so encouraging, as in recent years a good part of the population has moved away from the pattern. Instead, there has been an increase in the presence of industrial products, fast food and snacks, to the detriment of vegetables, fruits and legumes.

So, in order to correctly follow the Mediterranean diet and help in peripheral arterial disease, it is good to know some of its pillars. The Mediterranean Diet Foundation indicates the following:

  • Ensure an abundant presence of plant foods that provide fiber: vegetables, fruits, legumes, mushrooms and nuts.
  • Olive oil is the main source of fat, both for cooking and for seasoning dishes.
  • Cereals, bread and pasta should preferably be wholemeal and added daily to the menu according to the energy needs of the person.
  • Fish and eggs are 2 of the protein sources of preference, apart from legumes. It is recommended to consume oily fish 1 to 2 times a week, since it is also an excellent source of omega 3 fat.
  • On the other hand, meat should be present in a more residual form. Especially when it comes to red meat and processed meat products (sausages, bacon or sausages). A good option is to choose lean meats and cook them as part of other dishes or stews.
  • From the dairy family choose cheese and yogurt in one or two servings a day.
  • Fresh fruit is the best dessert to have daily. Sweets, cakes and sweetened dairy products should be eaten only occasionally.
  • All these dietary tips are complemented with water intake to maintain adequate hydration, avoiding alcohol and soft and sugary drinks.

Keys to the Mediterranean diet in vascular health care

The traditional way of eating in Mediterranean countries is characterized by the abundant presence of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil. It is accompanied by a weekly consumption of nuts, fish, legumes and lean meat. On the other hand, red meat is almost residual.

There is strong scientific support for its relationship with improved cardiovascular health. Research focuses on its risk factors, such as arterial hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Some of these aspects, together with vascular function and atherosclerosis, are key in the management of peripheral arterial disease. Consequently, adopting the Mediterranean diet in these cases is also a positive action.

However, diet is not enough and must be accompanied by physical exercise and an improvement in general health habits. All these guidelines are of special interest for people over 70 years of age, smokers, sedentary people or those suffering from diabetes or hypertension. However, the traditional Mediterranean diet is beneficial in many health conditions and can be adopted as a healthy eating pattern for the entire population.

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