Patient Blog | Jun 9 2023

Getting to know the Mediterranean diet 

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Cardiovascular diseases are those affecting the heart or blood vessels and can lead to major events such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Hypertension (high blood pressure), a major contributing factor for heart disease, is prevalent in 47% of Americans. While these are harrowing statistics, there are many dietary habits that can help keep you and your heart healthy, including the Mediterranean diet.  

The Mediterranean diet is not a typical “diet” as we think of today. It does not focus on restrictions or calculations, but rather places an emphasis on a healthy eating pattern that improves heart health parameters. It does this by emphasizing whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fiber, and healthy fats.  

Why Mediterranean?  

The concept of the Mediterranean diet began in the 1950s. As researchers looked at links between diet and cardiovascular health across the globe, they found lower rates of heart disease in the Mediterranean regions. Thus, the Mediterranean diet was appropriately coined and utilized as a dietary pattern across other countries. Many factors have changed in the decades since this discovery, but make no mistake – the original principles of the Mediterranean diet still stand tall today.  

Extensive research continues to support its benefits, particularly when it comes to heart health. Studies show that following this diet pattern can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and support a healthy weight, as well as maintain a healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  

The Mediterranean diet does this by including many tenets that work together to support a healthy lifestyle. They include:  

  • Decreasing sodium. A diet high in sodium can raise your blood pressure, a precursor to developing cardiovascular disease.  
  • Limiting saturated and trans fats. Trans fat has no health benefits. You do need some saturated fat in your diet, but only small amounts. Eating too much can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lead to plaque buildup in your arteries.  
  • Promoting intake of healthy unsaturated fats, including omega-3s. These fats promote healthy cholesterol levels and combat inflammation.
  • Favoring foods high in fiber and antioxidants. Fiber not only helps to remove waste from your body, but some forms of fiber help to bind cholesterol for removal. Antioxidants help to fight inflammation and free radicals in the body.
  • Limiting refined carbohydrates and sugar. Refined carbohydrates can provide excess calories without many nutritional benefits and contain minimal fiber.  

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How do I follow this diet pattern? 

There is no single definition for this diet approach. Below are several goals commonly recommended.  

  • Fruits and vegetables: 3 servings per day 
  • Whole grains and starchy vegetables: 3 to 6 servings per day 
  • Poultry and dairy: limit to once daily  
  • Legumes (beans and lentils): 3 servings per week 
  • Fish: 3 servings per week 
  • Nuts: at least 3 servings per week  
  • Red meat: no more than one serving per week  
  • Baked goods and desserts: limit to 3 servings per week  

Here are a few tips and tricks to get your started: 

  • Aim to include vegetables at all meals 
  • Choose fruit as a snack 
  • Use extra virgin olive oil as your main cooking oil 
  • Choose fish high in omega-3 fats such as salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel 
  • Eat nuts as a snack, paired with dry fruit, or sprinkle on yogurt or cereal 

The Mediterranean diet will be different for everyone. Talk to a registered dietitian for help tailoring this dietary pattern to your particular health goals!


References:  
Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2023 Update. Professional Heart Daily. https://professional.heart.org/en/science-news/heart-disease-and-stroke-statistics-2023-update. Accessed March 21, 2023.  
Facts About Hypertension. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm. Published January 5, 2023. Accessed March 21, 2023.  
Milanowski A. How to follow the Mediterranean Diet. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-get-started-on-the-mediterranean-diet-aka-the-healthiest-diet-for-your-heart/. Published February 27, 2023. Accessed March 21, 2023.  
Lyncoln Nardo, MS, RD, LD, CNSC

About Lyncoln Nardo

Lyncoln Nardo, MS, RD, LD, CNSC is a clinical dietitian from Virginia. She has over six years of experience caring for surgical patients, where her passion is providing enteral and parenteral nutrition support to critically ill patients. Beyond patient care, she enjoys working with dietetic interns and healthcare providers via classes, conferences, and creating nutrition protocols to facilitate best-care practices.

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