Heart Health Benefits
Written by Gloria Tsang, RD
Published in Sept 2005; updated in January 2009
Why is the Mediterranean Diet so famous?
(HealthCastle.com) An European study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003 followed more than 22,000 people living in Greece and investigated their eating habits. During the 4 years of the study, researchers found that the closer people followed the so called "Mediterranean diet", the less likely they were to die from either heart disease or cancer.
Characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet
- an abundance of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds
- olive oil, or other high-MUFA oils, as the major source of oil used
- moderate amount of fish; little red meat is consumed
- low to moderate amounts of dairy products (mainly cheese)
- wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts
- eggs are consumed not more than 4 times a week
- an active lifestyle
Olive Oil: olive oil is used almost exclusively in Mediterranean cooking. Olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fat, which can lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while increase HDL cholesterol . It is also a source of antioxidants including vitamin E. Researchers from the University of Michigan Health System published a study in December 2008 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. They suggested 8 to 10 servings of high-MUFA foods per day.
Fish: Fish, especially "oily fish", such as salmon is high in omega 3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat which can also lower cholesterol. In 2002, the American Heart Association made a recommendation to the general public to include at least 2 servings of fish per week. For details, please read Fish and Heart Disease.
Fruits and Vegetables: These are high in beneficial fibers and antioxidants, which are protective against both heart disease and cancer. Indeed, a recent study published in January 2006 by London researchers showed that 5 servings of fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of stroke by 25 percent.
Wine: People from the Mediterranean region drink 1 - 2 glasses of wine (usually red wine) a day with meals. Red wine is a rich source of flavonoid phenolics - a type of antioxidant which protect against heart disease by increasing HDL cholesterol and preventing blood clotting. For more information, please read Red Wine and Heart Benefits
Mediterranean Diet: It is not surprising to learn that people following the Mediterranean diet have a lower incidence of heart disease and cancer. Actually, the Mediterranean diet is not really a set diet. It is simply a healthy eating pattern - a pattern close to the dietary guidelines recommended by the American Heart Association. This diet is high in the good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) as present in fish, olive oil and nuts; and low in saturated fats and trans fats. It provides excellent source of fiber and antioxidants through encouragement of eating lots of plant-based foods.