The month of February is Go Red for Heart Health Month. So, if you’re looking for a heart-healthy eating plan, the Mediterranean diet might be right for you. The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries like Italy and Greece back in the year 1960.
The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating plus some flavorful olive oil and a glass of red wine – among other components characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Most healthy diets include fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit unhealthy fats. While these parts of a healthy diet are tried-and-true, subtle variations or differences in proportions of certain foods may make a difference in your risk of heart disease.
Researchers noted that these people were exceptionally healthy compared to Americans and had a low risk of many killer diseases. Many studies show that the Mediterranean diet can cause weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and premature death.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. The diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL
) cholesterol referred to as the “bad” cholesterol because it is more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.
In fact, analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality.
The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
For these reasons, most if not all major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adapt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases.
Key components of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:
- Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
- Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
- Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
- Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
- Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
- Enjoying meals with family and friends
- Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
- Getting plenty of exercise
The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice. For example, residents of Greece eat very little red meat and average nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
Grains in the Mediterranean region are typically whole grain and usually contain very few unhealthy trans fats, and bread is an important part of the diet there. However, throughout the Mediterranean region, bread is eaten plain or dipped in olive oil — not eaten with butter or margarine, which contain saturated or trans fats.
Nuts are another part of a healthy Mediterranean diet. Nuts are high in fat (approximately 80 percent of their calories come from fat), but most of the fat is not saturated. Because nuts are high in calories, they should not be eaten in large amounts — generally no more than a handful a day. Avoid candied or honey-roasted and heavily salted nuts.
A Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
There is no one “right” way to do this diet. There are many countries around the Mediterranean sea and they didn’t all eat the same things.
This blog post describes the diet that was typically prescribed in the studies that showed it to be an effective way of eating.
Consider all of this as a general guideline, not something written in stone. The plan can be adjusted to individual needs and preferences.
Eat: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.
Eat in Moderation: Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.
Eat Less Often: Red meat.
Avoid or Eliminate: Sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.
Unhealthy Foods to Avoid
Try to avoid these unhealthy foods and ingredients:
- Added sugar: Soda, candies, ice cream, table sugar and many others.
- Refined grains: White bread, pasta made with refined wheat, etc.
- Trans fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods.
- Refined Oils: Soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and others.
- Processed meat: Processed sausages, hot dogs, bacon, cold cuts
- Highly processed foods: Everything labelled “low-fat” or “diet” or looks like it was made in a factory.
It is important to read ingredients on labels if you want to avoid these unhealthy ingredients.
Foods to Include in Mediterranean Diet
You should base your diet on these healthy, unprocessed Mediterranean foods.
- Vegetables: Tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, etc.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches, etc.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more.
- Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts, chickpeas, etc.
- Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams, etc.
- Whole Grains: Whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole grain bread and pasta.
- Fish and Seafood: Salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, mussels, etc.
- Poultry: Chicken, turkey
- Eggs: Chicken
- Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, Greek yogurt, etc.
- Herbs and Spices: Garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, etc.
- Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, and avocado oil.
Whole, single ingredient foods are the key to good health.
Mediterranean Sample Meal Plan
This is a sample meal plan for one week on the Mediterranean diet.
- Breakfast: Organic Greek or Mountain High yogurt with strawberries and oats.
- Lunch: Whole grain sandwich with vegetables.
- Dinner: A tuna salad, dressed in olive oil. A piece of fruit for dessert.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins.
- Lunch: Leftover tuna salad from the night before.
- Dinner: Salad with tomatoes, olives and feta cheese.
- Breakfast: Omelet with veggies, tomatoes and onions. A piece of fruit.
- Lunch: Whole grain sandwich, with cheese and fresh vegetables.
- Dinner: Mediterranean lasagna – use organic, brown rice pasta.
- Breakfast: Yogurt with sliced fruits and nuts.
- Lunch: Leftover lasagna from the night before.
- Dinner: Broiled salmon, served with brown rice and vegetables.
- Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables in olive oil.
- Lunch: Yogurt with strawberries, oats and nuts.
- Dinner: Grilled lamb, with salad and baked sweet potato.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins, nuts and an apple.
- Lunch: Whole grain sandwich with vegetables.
- Dinner: Mediterranean pizza made with whole wheat or gluten-free, topped with vegan or cheese without hormones, vegetables and olives.
- Breakfast: Omelet with veggies and olives.
- Lunch: Leftover pizza from the night before.
- Dinner: Grilled chicken, with vegetables and a sweet potato. Fruit for dessert.
Feel free to adjust the portions and food choices based on your own needs and preferences.
Simple Shopping List
It is always a good idea to shop at the perimeter of the store, that’s usually where the whole foods are found.
Always try to choose the least processed option. Organic is best, but only if you can afford it.
- Vegetables: Carrots, onions, celery, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic,etc
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, pears, etc.
- Berries: Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries
- Frozen veggies: Choose mixes with healthy vegetables.
- Grains: Whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, etc.
- Legumes: Lentils, pulses, beans, etc.
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashwes, etc.
- Seeds: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Condiments: sea salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, etc.
- Fish: Salmon, sardines, mackarel, trout.
- Shrimp and shellfish.
- Sweet Potatoes.
- Cheese without artificial hormones added.
- Greek Yogurt.
- Organic or Hormone-Free Chicken.
- Organic or Free Range eggs.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It is best to clear all unhealthy temptations from your home, including sodas, ice cream, candy, pastries, white bread, crackers and all sorts of processed foods.
If you only have good food in your home, you will eat good food.