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How to Eat a Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health

By , SparkPeople Blogger
For years, the Mediterranean "diet" has been touted by many nutrition experts as a way to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and more, but the advice had been loosely based on the results of "observational studies."  People living in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Italy, Spain and Turkey, tend to have a lower risk of those diseases. These folks consume a bounty of fresh and wholesome fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, beans, olive oil, nuts and seeds.

However, the evidence favoring a Mediterranean-style eating plan just got much stronger.   A major clinical study published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine found that about 30% of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented with a Mediterranean-style eating plan. Test subjects for this experimental study were selected if they had risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as type 2 diabetes, smoker, hypertension, elevated LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, overweight or obesity, or a family history of premature heart disease.  The scientists randomly assigned the 7,447 male and female subjects (ages 55-80) into one of three groups:
  • Mediterranean diet plan plus 4 tablespoons olive oil daily
  • Mediterranean diet plan plus a 1 ounce mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts), or
  • A low-fat diet plan
The Mediterranean-style eating plan clearly provided a protective boost for these test subjects who had risk factors for heart disease.
 
The results of this study now position the Mediterranean diet as a powerful eating plan when it comes to the prevention of heart disease. If you want to compare your daily diet to the Mediterranean plan used in the study, here's the checklist:



Trans-Continental Cuisine
You don't have to cook exclusively Mediterranean dishes at home to integrate this healthy eating plan into your life.  You can easily incorporate these eating strategies into many of your favorite meal plans no matter where you live and which cuisines you prefer.
  • Top a salad with a small handful of walnuts or slivered almonds.
  • Switch from beef to a fish in your tacos, and use a corn tortilla packed with romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes and onions, and topped with mango salsa.
  • Mix lentils with your favorite rice dish and top with a vegetable-tomato sauce.
  • Stir-fry chicken with snow pea pods, bell pepper strips, onions, broccoli and cauliflower in olive oil.  Serve over brown rice and top with walnuts and a dash of soy sauce.
  • Mix up your own homemade Italian dressing using olive oil and your favorite flavored vinegar.
Want more Mediterranean inspiration? Try one of these recipes:


If you're dining out, follow these guides to choose healthier Mediterranean fare:
Dining Out: Italian Cuisine
Dining Out: Greek & Middle Eastern Cuisines
 
What is your favorite Mediterranean dish? How do you incorporate this lifestyle into your own meals?

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Comments

Thanks for breaking it down so nicely! Report
MICHELLEOJONES
I do not like wine. I will not drink wine. I will not pay for wine, and my reasons are my own. For someone to suggests I will be unhealthy is wrong. May I suggest you look at the negative attitude effects have on the heart and lighten up. Lets be happy and healthy,and don't tell me what I have to eat. Report
Love that this promotes eating WHOLE foods! Report
there is a Spark team devoted to this lifestyle plan. and I agree, it is hard to eat locally, in the winter and follow the concepts. I use lots of canned tomatoes, olives, walnuts. I don't do the wine, because I have addictive tendencies and dont need to add something to the list of things I binge on. I do take the supplement that has the same benefit as the red wine. Report
CD13064725
When I finish the regime my doctor currently has me on, I plan to maintain my weight with this eating plan. A glass of wine will be included. Report
BONNIEJJJJJJJ
I find it so funny that you can turn on the TV today and sex, violence and questionable content are readily available but we still live in such a prudish society. One glass of wine a day does not make you an alcoholic. My doctor recommended 1 glass of red wine per day because the tannins in the grapes help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. As stated in the article, this diet is meant for heart health and reducing one's cholesterol in turn could prevent damage to the heart tissue and arteries in the body. In no way did DailySpark say that this was a mandatory option. No dietician/doctor is going to tell you that you have to eat/drink a certain item since it is a part of the culture. If you disagree with the choice, drink water instead. The benefits of one glass of wine a day outweigh the damage by far. Report
SHKIRK
WOW i never have been turned on by beans( sorry lentils) before Kinda kinky. They sound like they will taste great. Who Knew !! Report
This is a really healthy diet, and oh so delicious. Just got to watch out as a lot of attempts to follow it end up being to high in carbs and not getting enough protein.

Only complaint about it is that just about every study has since disproven that saturated fats from animals are bad for you. Remember to eat your yolks, and beef in unashamed amounts for a healthy diet as well. Report
Squabbling about the optional wine? This article disseminates a 4.8 year scientifically conducted research study involving a control group. The empirical research of these scientists determines 3.5 oz of wine daily has a positive effect on heart health. This article and website are tools for improving health. I am here to learn how to improve my health. I am not here to have science distorted by the religion and values of others. The earth is not flat. Report
Hi to Aliciamary-
I agree with what you wrote. Thanks for sharing. It's nice to hear from someone across the water! Report
JHALLI
I enjoyed the article, and the comments. I have eaten this type of diet before, and the report this week and this article are encouraging me to go back to this way of eating.

Regarding the wine, one glass with your evening meal is common in the mediterranean and most of Europe, but isn't a requirement! And I think the thing to focus on, if you like wine, is that you should have only 1 glass! That is considered moderate, healthy consumption. But skip it if you have concerns.

I agree with the exercise comments - moving more in general is key! I lived in Australia for 7 months for a work assignment, and had no car. I was walking 5 - 7 miles each day and eating this type of diet, and I lost weight quickly and easily, and felt great. And then I came back to the US, and went back to my old ways and gained the weight back. Just another reason why I want to go back to this healthier mediterranean approach. Report
JMB369
This is of course just a regional variation of what all good eating programs advocate, from Weight Watchers to Spark People. I am surprised at the overall negativity I find in these comments, and especially the reaction against glass of wine. Of course if you are a recovering alcoholic, you should not drink wine any more than you should eat shrimp if you are allergic to it. I happen to have a sensitivity to wheat, but that does not mean I can't eat rice, corn, potatoes, etc. Red wine does have heart-healthy components not found in white wine and other forms of alcohol. For those of you who are skeptical, try googling it, and read the research.

I do agree that exercise should have been mentioned. When my son and his family lived in southern France for a year (his wife grew up in Nice), they walked to work, to school, to the grocery store. All of them walked 3-5 miles a day, including their children, who were 3 and 6 years old at the time. And yes, as someone said, it's hilly there.

My personal favorite dish in Mediterranean cuisine is probably Tuna Nicoise -- a beautiful salad that includes fresh vegetables, fresh fish, and of course an olive oil based salad dressing. Several people writing in this blog mentioned portion sizes, too, and I think this is important. The French in particular eat MUCH smaller portions than the average American. This is how they can eat foods that we would consider "fattening."

Let's not turn the Mediterranean diet into another fad, however. Healthy eating is healthy eating, period. Mediterranean is no better than a basic Japanese or Chinese cuisine. These "diets" also emphasize lots of vegetables, lots of fish. Report
This is not a religious site, as far as I know, and a glass of wine is not "alcohol". Report
hi
I am pleased to see what is normal food getting a boost again

we moved from the north of England to the south of France 10 years ago and some things stick out

fresh fish is every where and fresh vegetables even eating out the portions are a LOT smaller then in the UK and I think the US

I have weight problems and I am losing very slowly , it gets harder at 70 then at 50

but what we do eat is good simple food , on a British pension you have to be inventive and eat to the season
, I do freeze fruits from the garden or the shops when they are in season to add variety in the winter months

the treats are saved for holidays and take aways are unknown

my husband does not drink alcohol at all but that doesn't stop me having a glass of red wine with my meal at night as well as the water

when I see recipes which start with proper food then add all the cream and extra and to sauces for everything I wonder why ?

sorry i rarely write letters as i feel very foreign on this American site sometimes
Aliciamary
Report
So sorry there is a bit more to it than eating and drinking wine what about the exercise part. Just maybe I missed it.
However I do not think they advocate a glass of wine daily. I am not comfortable with Spark advocating daily wine consumption, especially a Nutritionist. Pat in Maine. Report
DAILY glass of wine?

That would put people over their weekly units easily.

I do not think advocating daily alcohol consumption belongs on a health promoting website at all.

Daily alcohol is not a healthy habit. Report
I've been following this type of plan since March of 2012. It helps to keep you full and also aids in the weight loss process. It helped me to get off of a long standstill. I prefer this type of meal plan. The best in my book! Thanks! Report
Wow, this looks delicious. Report
Glass of wine, perfect! Report
This looks lovely. I would definitely like to try this. When I was in Greece, occasionally I ate food that was too heavy for me (the Italian food was filled with oil and they like fried cheese), but overall there were many very good choices - and lots of cheap wine! Speaking of wine, I have always heard that red wine is more healthy, but I prefer white wine. Are both varieties okay, or should that daily glass of wine be red? Report
I think the Mediterranean Diet is the way to go. I've incorporated a lot of their ideas into my diet already. Report
RITAROSE
Sounds great, I'm going to try it. Report
Good way to eat! Report
It's really unfortunate this has been called a 'diet' in the pejorative sense of that word; it's really the Mediterranean "lifestyle" and makes a lot of sense within that context. In the Mediterranean world, olives, legumes, and often fish, were--and remain--more affordable healthy staples than red meat and cheeses. Longer growing season, more efficient use of limited land mass--all sorts of reasons why it is easier to base one's food consumption on fresh, varied fruits and vegetables, and 'alternative' sources of protein and fats.

It could be harder to maintain both a Med. lifestyle AND (my current attempt) to 'eat locally' since the northern US's growing season doesn't feature lots of fruits/veg. year round. I can get peppers and oranges in the winter (two name only two non-local things I like a lot)--from Florida (or, more likely Mexico, or Israel)--but it's a bit tougher to do HERE what comes naturally in the Mediterranean.

That said, it's a lifestyle worth pursuing...with care (and maybe not red wine--and make no mistake: white wine, like milk chocolate, just doesn't cut it in terms of positive nutrients). Report
Unfortunately, I'm not okay with the "glass of wine daily" recommendation. That won't be happening in my household. My husband is a recovering alcoholic, and any potential health benefits are far outweighed by the negative health benefits caused by sabotaging his recovering.

I don't do diets, and don't plan on starting this one. Report
it seems very simple. I'll try it. Report
CD301320
this is just their blogger and doctor conclusion to promote the Mediterranean Diet, there are other diets that have the same concept and does the same. Report
NAUSIKAA
My husband and I live in Greece and we eat this all the time. It is a wonderful way to eat. A few more things we do here in Greece: lunch is by far the biggest meal of the day. Dinner is very light, only around 100-200 calories. We often take an afternoon nap (siesta) of about 60-90 minutes. And we live in very mountainous/hilly terrain so there is a lot of strenuous walking and other types of exercise. You can't consume 4 tbsp of olive oil/day and not gain weight unless you do a LOT of exercise. The proper Mediterranean style diet is a high calorie diet, because it has traditionally taken a LOT of calories to live here. Now with modern conveniences like cars and elevators, obviously it is no longer okay to eat so many calories unless you make it a point to get lots of extra exercise.

I'm getting tired of seeing the Mediterranean way of eating recommended but no mention of the additional exercise you need to sustain a healthy weight while eating this way! Report
What's not to like here? These recipes are clean, processing-free and sound delicious. I'm giving it a shot. Report
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