Eating to protect your heart and circulatory system can mean having a more varied diet and trying new foods. Victoria Taylor looks at how to eat for pleasure as well as your health.

When it comes to making dietary changes, we often focus on the things we think we’ll be missing out on, but thinking about what you can have rather than what you can’t makes eating so much more enjoyable.

Take the Mediterranean diet, for example. It’s associated with health benefits and no foods are cut out completely – in fact, compared with the average UK diet, the Mediterranean diet includes more of certain foods, including wholegrains, oily fish, nuts and unsaturated fats.

Simple healthy food swaps

Rather than removing something from your diet completely, consider some simple swaps. When it comes to fat, the most important change is from saturated to unsaturated fats.

Instead of having a ham sandwich, try sardines on toast – you’ll avoid the salt and saturated fat from ham, and benefit from the heart-healthy unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish.

It’s also very easy to make mince based meals go further by adding lentils to dishes like bolognese, and kidney beans and sweetcorn to a chilli. As well as making your meal healthier, these additions will bulk out your dish so that you’ll have leftovers for another day.

Think about changing your diet as a chance to trying something new.

You’ll still get a meaty dish, but with the added benefit of the vitamins, minerals and fibre that the extra beans, lentils and vegetables provide.

Think about changing your diet as a chance to try something new – you might find that you enjoy the healthier alternative more than your usual recipes.

Vegetarian versions of your favourite meat dishes, like chilli, lasagne or hotpot, can be a good way to eat meals that you know you like, but with less red meat.

Different salad ingredients

Fresh strawberries over a white background

Salads might not be on your list of favourite meals, but don’t write them off completely – think about why you don’t like them. If it’s that they are cold, tasteless or insubstantial, work out ways to challenge that. Ingredients that add protein, such as lentils, chickpeas, eggs, unsalted nuts and cooked meat, will make a salad more filling. 

You could also use more substantial vegetables such as cooked beetroot and carrots, and make sure you have some wholegrain or high fibre starchy carbohydrates along with standard salad items such as lettuce, tomato, cucumber and peppers.

If you don’t like salad leaves, try replacing them with cooked green veg, and add some dried or fresh fruits for added interest, too.

Don’t feel you have to skip dressing, as this will add flavour. To avoid the added salt and sugar in shop-bought versions, make your own using unsaturated oil (such as olive or rapeseed) mixed with vinegars or lemon juice, with herbs or spices for extra flavour.

Take your time eating a meal

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet aren’t only down to food. Lifestyle plays a part and, although we don’t have the same climate, there are still elements we can use in our daily lives.

Think about what you’re eating as a meal and, therefore, an experience to enjoy, not just food to keep you going, and take time over them. Making your meals visually appealing will help you to avoid feeling as though you’re missing out. For example, vegetables of different colours will look appetising and will also ensure you get a variety of nutrients.

If you’re eating fruit, take the time to cut up larger varieties, such as melon or pineapple, to the size and shape you prefer, and segmenting oranges and hulling strawberries will make them easier and more enjoyable to eat. If you’re prepping fruit ahead of time and it’s been in the fridge, let it come up to room temperature before eating to help bring out the flavours.

And finally, remember that the experience of eating can be just as important as what’s on your plate. Think about your most memorable meals – who you were with, your surroundings, the time of day and how you were feeling – and try to bring a sense of that back. It all makes a difference to how much you enjoy the meal.

If the weather is good, try eating outside – whether that’s an evening meal in the garden or homemade sandwiches during a stop on a walk. Make an occasion out of the everyday and see how it changes your mealtimes for the better.