How to Eat a Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  60 comments   :  428,097 Views

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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  • 60
    This type of diet is one of my favorites. The chicken with orzo is very good - 12/19/2017   7:38:44 AM
  • 59
    We have a neighborhood of Middle-Eastern restaurants and I am putting them on my list to visit. - 12/18/2017   7:25:32 AM
  • 58
    This looks delicious! - 10/27/2017   12:47:39 PM
  • 57
    These look so delicious especially since I haven't had breakfast. I do desire to eat foods that I wouldn't have eaten 7-8 years ago. My taste buds are open...YUMMY. - 10/5/2017   11:54:01 AM
  • 56
    Thanks! - 10/2/2017   8:04:17 AM
    Delicious! - 9/2/2017   10:03:04 AM
  • 54
    This is a very healthy way to eat. - 8/6/2017   7:28:26 AM
  • 53
    This really gives no conversion to a vegetarian or a vegan diet. It looks impossible for me, since I am a vegetarian.

    Also, I just want to add, to disagree with the last poster, not all chicken are free range. That's really not true at all! Most chicken are raised in cages, and never see the light of day. But many are allowed to walk around inside a building, yet there is no light, and often when workers come in, they step on the poor chickens and injure them. Chickens aren't given the good care that you think they are. You need to buy organic, free range chicken, if that's a concern of yours. - 6/30/2017   12:53:12 PM
  • 52
    Dark chicken meat has 2 times the nutrients as light meat, a long time a go McDonalds used 1/3 dark meat in the nuggets until the fad for white meat came on the market. Beef has a lot of nutrients that chicken & fish do not, as long as it is natural without hormones & G.M.O. Chicken fat no longer has the cholesterol it had in the 1950's as the chickens are younger & leaner and all chickens are now free range even if it does not say on the package.Chicken skin now will help to lower cholesterol.. - 6/30/2017   4:22:20 AM
    Nice! - 6/26/2017   4:01:58 AM
    interesting - 5/30/2017   6:48:29 PM
  • 49
    It looks like I am eating a Mediterrian diet without trying! Good for me. - 5/2/2017   5:39:15 PM
    great ideas thanks for sharing - 4/22/2017   1:32:54 AM
    Love this one. - 4/15/2017   6:42:28 PM
  • 46
    I use the DASH diet,it is rated #1 for the past 6 years,it is similar but less strict, my pharmacist last week advised me to include more beans,fish,olive oil & nuts in my diet. I think the wine might help me raise my blood pressure it is 80/50 most days,walking raises it. I am also advised that my cholesterol is below the minimum to be healthy so advised to eat more foods with cholesterol and avoid low fat dairy, as it is harming my organs and brain with not enough. I was also advised to include lot of salty foods, I think I will add more salt to healthy foods instead at every meal. So, with my medical health conditions I will include the beans,fish,fruit,vegetables,wine,wh
    ite meat,chicken,olive oil & nuts,but no low fat foods for me. - 3/19/2017   2:00:39 PM
  • 45
    GREAT way to eat1 - 2/21/2017   7:50:01 AM
  • 44
    I have made a few and we still enjoy them. I am maintaining my goal weight, - 1/23/2017   9:43:30 PM
  • 43
    Nowhere in the cited article in the NEJM, a low-fat dairy is listed as beneficial. In fact, the low-fat control group did the worst of the three in this study. Low-fat dairy (except milk) has too many additives such as gums, polysaccharides, starches, and stabilizers which negate health benefits of removing fat. - 1/23/2017   12:33:46 PM
  • 42
    looks tasty! - 1/23/2017   10:02:18 AM
  • DUNNBV1017
    Ei am looking for a Mediterrnean diet plan....I do better With day 1 eat this for 1 for lunch eat this, day 1 for dinner eat this...and then they give u either a week or a month plan. Any suggestions, books or does spark people have a plan? I am anxious to get started but I need some structure that I could use with some flexibility
    - 9/3/2015   8:15:17 PM
  • 40
    Mediterranean foods are great for heart health and weight loss, but the Mediterranean lifestyle is so much more than food. It's slowing down, enjoying the company during meals, savoring each bite, using flavorful spices and herbs, getting outside, walking (a LOT) and generally paying more attention to life in general. Adopting all of those habits makes a person much healthier, and if starting with the deliciousness of Mediterranean food is step one, then so much the better. We went to Greece last month and it was WONDERFUL. - 8/3/2015   2:22:06 PM
  • 39
    You do not have to drink the wine if you don't want it. There are many facets to following a Mediterranean-style lifestyle. The wine is just one recommendation - it is not set in stone. Obviously if it is against your religious beliefs, causes adverse health risks, or is not palatable then don't include it. My dad's family physician told him grape juice is a good substitute. - 5/12/2015   12:01:15 AM
  • 38
    I love my red wine, fish and vegetables...looking forward to using the Mediterranean Diet as my weight loss guide to healthier eating. - 4/3/2015   11:20:00 AM
  • CLAY10237
    Red wine is most prevalent in Greek, Italian and Spanish cuisine....white wine doesn't have the same antioxidant properties as red wine.... - 3/28/2015   10:17:21 PM
  • 36
    Suddenly I'm on 3 new medications. I heard about this diet and how it's suppose to be good for diabetics so I'm getting the facts on how to even start out with it. This sounds like something that I can do and hopefully my sweet tooth will subside with it's help. - 3/12/2015   6:00:31 PM
    Yes that's perfect. I have heard that Mediterranean Diet can reduce chances of heart disease?

    - 1/24/2015   5:45:12 AM
    There are thousands of articles on this site it doesn't mean that each and every one is going to pertain to you. I think that if you were to talk to any dietician, nutritionist, or doctor they would be more than happy to tell you that a single glass of wine a day does not an alcoholic make.
    It's time people haul their heads out of the sand. Just because an article does not work with your lifestyle, does not make it bad. If you were in Canada I wouldn't be able to help but call you a "Harperite".... - 1/22/2014   9:58:12 AM
    Try Moscato wine. Slightly sweet and you can find in red, white or pink. It also comes in champagne. I was never a big wine drinker but this has easily become my house wine! You would also most likely enjoy a Riesling. Very similar in taste. Also these are very reasonably priced! :) - 1/6/2014   1:35:50 PM
  • SARGE31106
    What kind of wine would you recommend? I've tried several and haven't found anything I could adapt too. - 8/7/2013   3:52:07 AM
    Great blog. The recipes look delicious--I can't wait to try them. Thanks for giving me some new tips for my healthy lifestyle. - 7/6/2013   9:28:00 AM
  • 30
    Thanks for breaking it down so nicely! - 4/24/2013   12:58:12 PM
  • 29
    Thanks for breaking it down so nicely! - 4/24/2013   12:58:11 PM
    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. - 4/19/2013   11:38:10 AM
  • 27
    Love that this promotes eating WHOLE foods! - 4/3/2013   10:11:10 PM
  • 26
    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. - 3/16/2013   10:53:06 AM
    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. - 3/6/2013   8:29:37 AM
    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. - 3/5/2013   7:11:27 PM
    WOW i never have been turned on by beans( sorry lentils) before Kinda kinky. They sound like they will taste great. Who Knew !! - 3/5/2013   4:23:36 PM
  • 22
    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. - 3/5/2013   4:09:09 PM
  • 21
    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. - 3/5/2013   1:16:10 PM
  • 20
    Hi to Aliciamary-
    I agree with what you wrote. Thanks for sharing. It's nice to hear from someone across the water! - 3/5/2013   10:56:50 AM
    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. - 3/5/2013   9:36:21 AM
  • 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. - 3/5/2013   7:53:18 AM
  • 17
    This is not a religious site, as far as I know, and a glass of wine is not "alcohol". - 3/5/2013   7:46:54 AM
  • 16
    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
    - 3/5/2013   3:18:17 AM
  • 15
    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. - 3/4/2013   12:33:27 PM
  • 14
    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. - 3/4/2013   10:14:52 AM
  • 13
    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! - 3/4/2013   12:54:20 AM
  • 12
    Wow, this looks delicious. - 3/3/2013   7:38:17 PM
  • 11
    Glass of wine, perfect! - 3/3/2013   3:57:41 PM

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