COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - While all diets have the goal of helping you lose weight, there's one getting an extra push for February -- Heart Disease Awareness Month. Doctors at Lexington Medical Center put their stamp of approval on a diet influenced from thousands of miles away -- the Mediterranean.
Retired and loving living life, Retired Army 1st Sgt. Thomas Harris of Lexington has always been active.
"I do ride a bicycle on occasion," Harris said. "I walk. I work out on home equipment. And I do some hiking from time to time."
He's hiked Diamond Head in Hawaii and Chimney Rock in North Carolina. But Harris was missing a very key aspect to having a healthy heart -- a healthy diet. He said he ate a lot at buffets, eating anything and everything he wanted to. It caught up with him. He became prediabetic and had high cholesterol levels.
"I was feeling pain in my left arm and shortness of breath," Harris said. "I would even get nauseated from time to time."
Thankfully, he knew to get tested. He set his appointment on his birthday last September.
"I didn't realize it was so severe because I did not see the symptoms that would make it that bad," Harris said.
It was bad. Harris had four blockages which meant quadruple bypass surgery. He then started getting a new education on food from Susan Wilkerson, a cardiac rehab dietician who put Thomas on the Mediterranean Diet, which she doesn't want to be a diet.
"We call this the Mediterranean Way and so instead of you're on a diet, you're off a diet, this is something that you need to incorporate into your lifestyle on a daily basis for the rest of your life," Wilkerson said.
This way of eating is heavy on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs, spices, and olive oil. Animal proteins are part of it but at a minimum.
"It's leaning toward whole foods, plant-based, minimal fish, and very, very small portions of meat. You get the majority of your proteins from beans and plant food," Wilkerson said.
The plan gets away from so much sugar and salt - sadly, something incorporated into our diets early on.
"It hurts my heart when I see baby bottles with sweet tea or Kool-Aid," Wilkerson said. "That really is not the place where that drink should be. We are starting it at an early age to crave those foods."
Wilkerson said also give your taste buds time to reprogram if you're eating the Mediterranean Way
"After about two weeks of not having salt, you don't really crave it as much," Wilkerson said. "And then when you do eat something salty, you're like wow I can't believe how salty this is."
As Harris re-learned how to eat the right foods and how to omit those bad for his heart, he not only lost weight but also lost some of his health issues.
Harris said his cholesterol level has dropped drastically and he's off diabetes medication. He learned from how to go from eating just to eat to eating for health.
The attached graphic shows the Mediterranean diet is made up primarily of plant-based foods - your fruits, veggies, grains, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs, and spices. Fish and other seafood is eaten, but in lesser amounts. The diet puts even stronger limits on poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt. And the foods that should be at the greatest minimum - meats and sweets.