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Mediterranean Diet

Recent literature has sparked a renewed interest in how the Mediterranean diet can be a way to be heart-healthy and prevent cardiac disease. A recent well-publicized article in the February 2013 New England Journal of Medicine (Feb 25 2013 issue) showed a significant decrease in the incidence of cardiovascular events in people who followed this diet pattern. So what is the diet and could it be right for you in promoting healthy eating?

The pyramid of foods encouraged in this diet is anchored by fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices. Oddly enough, the anchor to the diet is actually olive oil.  Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed form and has the highest antioxidant value. Amounts equal to or in excess of four tablespoonfuls/day make olive oil the primary source of fat in this diet, and a reducer of the potential harmful LDL cholesterol in the blood. The diet also encourages tree nuts and peanuts in amounts of over four servings per week, fruits (greater than three servings/day), vegetables (greater than two servings/day, and legumes (greater than three servings/week).  

Fish and seafood are higher in the pyramid. Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and tuna are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglyceride levels, mediate blood pressure, and decrease the risk of blood clotting and heart attack. Fish of this type is suggested three times or more per week, and are emphasized in place of other forms of animal protein.

The top end of the pyramid includes poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt, as well as meats and sweets.  The Mediterranean diet discourages red meat and high sugar foods, and when meats are ingested, white meats are encouraged over red meats. The total fat in the diet averages about 30%, and saturated fat is the lowest portion of this - less than 10%.  Protein makes up about 20% of the dietary intake.

Another key part of the Mediterranean diet is red wine. At least one glass of red wine daily is an optional part, and appears to have beneficial effects.  Of course, too much wine causes other harmful consequences, such as liver disease and gastrointestinal and other problems, so the diet is not intended to have alcohol as its primary staple. Increased exercise, moderation in dietary intake of calories, and the use of herbs and spices to flavor foods in place of salt are also key parts of the diet and lifestyle.  

One last part of the equation to remember is not to be indiscriminate in calories. Both wine and nuts are high caloric foods and should be ingested in moderation - a glass of wine daily and a handful of nuts rather than a large amount.  Even a healthy diet can be abused if moderation is not a key ingredient.  Studies are also ongoing regarding the connection of the Mediterranean diet with a reduced incidence of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, with preliminary results being quite favorable.

Authored by Dr. Bob Goldstone, M.D.

The information contained on this page is not intended to provide medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.