A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative

Mediterranean Diet for Better Health

Posted June 10, 2013

People who live in the Mediterranean region (the 16 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea) have historically enjoyed a higher life expectancy and lower rates of heart disease.

What’s their secret?

They enjoy a diet rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients, all known to be good for the heart. A growing body of research highlights the cardio-protective effects of a Mediterranean diet over the long term. For example, the Lyon Heart Study showed that following a Mediterranean-type diet compared with a typical “Western” diet reduced the rate of recurrent heart attacks by 50-70 percent.

Research suggests even more benefits:

  • Improved weight loss
  • Better control of blood glucose (sugar) levels
  • Reduced risk of depression
  • Reduced levels of inflammation, which is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease

Mediterranean in a Nutshell

This diet emphasizes balancing your meal with a variety of wholesome foods in appropriate portions , and incorporating daily physical activity. This means:

  • A high intake of fresh vegetables and fruits, beans, legumes, nuts and whole grains
  • A moderately high intake of fish
  • A low-to-moderate intake of dairy products (mostly in the form of cheese or yogurt)
  • A low intake of meat, poultry, sugar and saturated fats
  • A moderate intake of alcohol

Go Mediterranean Today

1. Eat more plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits of all colors. These foods are rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber and other nutrients particularly important in preventing coronary heart disease.

2. Eat fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel at least twice a week.

3. Instead of potato chips, snack on a handful of nuts (like the almighty almond).

4. Make olive oil your main source of fat.

5. Drink alcohol in moderation . For a woman, this means no more than one serving of alcohol a day (see below). A moderate serving for a man is two servings of alcohol per day.

One serving of alcohol is equivalent to:

  • 12 oz. of beer
  • 5 oz. of wine
  • 1.5 oz. of 80 proof distilled spirits (gin, vodka, whiskey)
  • 8 oz. of malt liquor

For better heart health and quality of life, the Mediterranean lifestyle is the way to go. But remember, maintaining an active lifestyle is also important. Complement healthy meals with plenty of walks and other activities you enjoy, and you’ll truly be living la dolce vita !

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