Most diets are formulated and adopted with weight loss as the primary goal. After all, why restrict yourself if you’re not seeing movement on the scale? With the Mediterranean diet, however, the goal is a change of heart—literally.
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating approach that focuses on foods often eaten in Greece, Spain, Southern Italy, France and other countries that border Europe’s Mediterranean Sea. These foods include fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads, whole wheat grains, nuts, olive oil and red wine (in moderation). Meats, cheeses and sweets are discouraged, but not completely cut out.
Recent studies have shown that eating this way can ward off a number of illnesses and health issues, including heart attacks, strokes, premature deaths and more. The diet does this mainly by limiting saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans fats), which contribute to heart disease, and replacing them with olive oil as the primary source of fat.
Olive oil is mainly a monounsaturated fat, meaning it can help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels when replacing saturated or trans fats. Some nuts and fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids in addition to healthy fats, which help to lower triglycerides, decrease blood clotting and, in some cases, lower risk of sudden heart attacks. They also improve blood vessel health and help moderate blood pressure. Additionally, whole grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables are full of fiber, which slows digestion and helps control blood sugar.
The Mediterranean diet incorporates a moderate amount of red wine: no more than 5 ounces a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65 and no more than 10 ounces for younger men.
Other potential benefits of the Mediterranean diet are weight loss, improvement of rheumatoid arthritis and a reduced risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some types of cancer.
The key to success with the Mediterranean diet is swapping out the bad for the good. Here are some easy trades to get you on track toward heart health:
- Replace butter with olive oil, when possible
- Swap out sweet snacks or toppings for fruits and vegetables
- Go with whole grains, not refined
- Trade two red meat meals per week with fish
- Switch to skim or 1-2 percent milk
- Top your sandwich with hummus, not mayonnaise
Check out our Nutrition and Weight Loss program to learn more about healthy approaches to living and eating.