A Portuguese style menu may be good for the heart.
It’s hard to ignore a spate of research done in the last decade touting the many health benefits of the Mediterranean style of eating. Studies suggest that people who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil, are less likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and depression. But a recent investigation suggests there may be another heart-healthy European diet worth biting into.
For some time, health experts have noticed that denizens of northern Portugal and northwest Spain have very low mortality rates from heart disease, much like the citizens of Greece and Italy, who, for the most part, adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet.
To investigate whether a bowl of caldo verde soup a day keeps the doctor away, in a study published in the July 2010 issue of the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers assessed the dietary intake of more than 800 people who had suffered a heart attack and about 2,200 people who’d never had an attack. Study participants.
resided in Porto, a city located along northern Portugal’s Atlantic coast. Their findings indicate that ndividuals who adhered most closely to the little-studied Southern European Atlantic Diet (SEAD) were 33% less likely than those less adherent to suffer a heart attack. A 1-point increment on the adherence scale was associated with a 10% reduced risk of heart disease, a leading cause of mortality in the United States.
The SEAD, the traditional way of eating in northern Portugal and Galicia, a region in northwest Spain, emphasizes the enjoyment of repasts with vegetable-laden soups, fresh fish, rustic breads, legumes, and wine but also with more red meat, pork, local dairy products, and potatoes than its Mediterranean counterpart.
While generally lauding this diet, the scientists discovered that the SEAD can be made even more heart chummy with a little modification. When they rated participants’ diets based on adherence to the SEAD but took away points for high intakes of pork (often consumed in a salt-preserved form) and other red meats, they found those with the greatest number of points were a whopping 60% less likely to experience a heart attack.
The gastronomy of northwestern Spain and northern Portugal is as rich and varied as the countries’ heritage and landscapes. Here’s a sampling of the good-for-the-heart foods that define the SEAD:
- SOUPS: The SEAD includes a wide variety of soups and stews chock-full of nutritional bell ringers such as shellfish, beans, turnips, greens, herbs, and tomatoes. According to scientists at Penn State University, consuming low-calorie soups as an appetizer can reduce overall calorie intake during a meal and perhaps spearhead weight loss.
- SARDINES: The Portuguese in particular are crazy for sardines—and more Americans should be. On top of being a sustainable seafood option, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, sardines are brimming with omega-3 fatty acids for heart protection and vitamin D, which is purported tohelp fend off a number of ailments by positively influencing numerous genes. If you’ve only tried sardines from a can, you’ll find that the fresh version is a fantastic new taste experience definitely worth trying.
- COD: With its ideal location on the Atlantic coast, the SEAD region is a seafood lover’s paradise. Cod is a very frequently consumed fish, and while it lacks the omega-3 punch of sardines, this swimmer contains only 70 calories in a 3-ounce serving along with a healthy dose of the trace mineral selenium, which is essential to good health. Fresh cod is a healthier option than the dried, salted version.
- DARK GREENS: Vegetables such as kale, cabbage, turnip greens, and collards are popular in kitchens in this region, where they’re often incorporated into the many varieties of soup. These nutritional overachievers are loaded with vitamins A, C, and K. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that vitamin K may help reduce coronary artery calcification, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- POTATOES: The potato is the evergreen vegetable in Galicia and northern Portugal and appears regularly in all kinds of sides and main dishes. Though often maligned as a nutritional dud, spuds contain a significant amount of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin B6, found by Harvard School of Public Health scientists to reduce heart attack risk in women.
- CORNMEAL: Breads made with whole grain cornmeal are staples in the poorer SEAD regions. Scientists at Purdue University discovered that milled corn products such as cornmeal are rich in bioaccessible (available for absorption after digestion) antioxidant carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin.
- BEANS: An assortment of legumes, including white beans and broad beans, which are similar to lima beans, are often enjoyed in soups and salads. Though most Americans don’t consume nearly enough of them, beans offer many heart-healthy nutrients, including folate, potassium, and soluble fiber, to help keep cholesterol levels in check.
Broa de Milho (Portuguese Cornbread)
This rustic, yeast-raised bread with a crackly crust is often served with grilled sardines, stews, and soups such as caldo verde. The use of whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour makes it more nutritious.
1 package (21⁄4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
11⁄4 cups lukewarm water
3⁄4 cup warm milk, not boiling
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups yellow cornmeal
23⁄4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
In a small bowl, stir together yeast, sugar, and 1⁄4 cup of the water. Let sit for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, mix together the remaining water, milk, salt, olive oil, and cornmeal. Stir in the yeast mixture and slowly add the whole wheat pastry flour to make a soft dough.
Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes, adding more flour to the work surface and your hands as needed.
Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
Push down the center of the dough with your fist and then push the edges of the dough into the center using your fingertips. Knead in this manner on a floured surface for 3 minutes.
Form into a round loaf and place in a greased 8-or 9-inch pie pan. Cover and allow to rise again until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Place the pan in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hallow when tapped. Let cool before slicing.
TD&N Nutrient Analysis: Calories: 296; Total Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 2 mg; Sodium: 311 mg; Carbohydrates: 57 g; Fiber: 8 g; Protein: 8 g
Empanadas de Bacalao (Cod Empanadas)
Empanadas hail from Galicia, where they are often made to serve many people, unlike the single-serving empanadas of Latin America. They can be filled with pork, cheese, veal or, a SEAD favorite, cod.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 plum (Roma) tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
3 gloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika, preferably Spanish paprika (pimenton)
1 pound cod, sliced into 1⁄2-inch cubes
1⁄2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and with liquid pressed out
1 package (16 ounces) frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
1 egg, beaten
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add onion, tomatoes, red pepper, garlic, oregano, and paprika. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
Stir in cod and cook until the flesh becomes opaque throughout, about 3 minutes. Mix in olives, eggs, and spinach and remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 425˚.
Roll out one puff pastry sheet onto a greased baking sheet and place cod mixture on top, leaving about 1⁄2-inch free on all edges. Brush edges with beaten egg.
Place second sheet over cod mixture and crimp together the two puff pastry sheets. Brush top with beaten egg.
Bake empanada until crust is browned and crisp, about 25 minutes. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.
TD&N Nutrient Analysis: Calories: 563; Total Fat: 34 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 17 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 9 g; Cholesterol: 138 mg; Sodium: 386 mg; Carbohydrates: 41 g; Fiber: 3 g; Protein: 23 g