Mediterranean diet for heart health

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy-eating plan. It's plant based and incorporates the traditional flavors and cooking methods of the region.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Looking for a heart-healthy eating plan? The Mediterranean diet might be the right fit.

Why the Mediterranean diet?

Interest in the diet began in the 1950s when it was noted that heart disease was not as common in Mediterranean countries as it was in the U.S. Since then, numerous studies have confirmed that the Mediterranean diet helps prevent heart disease and stroke.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that's based on the traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

Plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, are the foundation of the diet. Olive oil is the main source of added fat.

Fish, seafood, dairy and poultry are included in moderation. Red meat and sweets are eaten only occasionally.

Healthy fats instead of unhealthy ones

Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (or "bad") cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat.

Fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats help fight inflammation in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure.

What about wine?

Wine is often associated with the Mediterranean diet. It can be included but only in moderation. While alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease, it has other health risks.

The Mediterranean way

Interested in trying the Mediterranean diet? Get started with these tips:

  • Build meals around vegetables, beans and whole grains.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week.
  • Use olive oil instead of butter in preparing food.
  • Serve fresh fruit for dessert.

Living the Mediterranean way also means being physically active and sharing meals with loved ones. Savor the benefits!

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July 23, 2021 See more In-depth