22 May 12 Mediterranean Diets: Good Food, Good Fats, and Healthy Eating!

If you want to lower your risk of heart disease yet consider low fat diets to be a miserable stain on the art of cooking, then consider Mediterranean-style eating. Healthy fats from fish, nuts, and seeds have the ability to help us lower harmful LDL blood cholesterol levels while boosting or keeping HDL levels high. Keeping blood cholesterol levels in check is important to keep our risk of heart disease and heart attack low.

There is no one "Mediterranean Diet" per se since there are at least twenty nations that border the sea. When health care providers refer to the "Mediterranean Diet," they are usually referring the cuisines of the northern Mediterranean Sea. People who live in industrialized countries bordering the sea (e.g. France, Italy, Spain, and Greece) have much lower rates of heart disease and heart attack than folks who live in other industrialized countries (e.g. United States and Russia).

Basics of Mediterranean-Style Eating

Regular meals, wine, socializing, and a lot of regular physical activity characterize Mediterranean living. But the foods also have some common characteristics. Plenty of fruits and vegetables mean a plentiful intake of nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. Plenty of olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish mean a plentiful intake of healthy fats and antioxidants. And high quality, fresh ingredients are emphasized over processed foods.

Olive oil is used extensively. Mediterranean cuisines tend to use a lot more olive oil and other liquid vegetables oils instead of saturated fats such as solid animal fats, butter, palm oil, and bacon fat.

Veggies - 4 or more servings of non-potato types daily. A serving is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw leafy.

Fruits – 4 or more servings daily. A serving is 1 medium size fruit or 1/2 cup diced.

Whole grains – 2 or more servings daily. A serving is 1/2 cup cooked grains or pasta, or 1 oz slice of bread. Most grains consumed are unrefined and high in fiber.

Fish – 2 or more servings per week. A serving is 4 oz cooked. Fish are high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Nuts & Seeds – 2 or more servings per week. 1 serving is 1.5 oz or close to 1/3 cup of nuts or seeds.

Dried Beans & Peas - 2 or more servings per week. Legumes provide protein, carbs, and lots of heart healthy soluble fiber. 1 serving is 1/2 cup cooked.

Wine – 1-2 glasses for men and 1/2 - 1 glass for women daily. 1 serving is 5 fl oz. According to the Wine Institute, people from Mediterranean countries drink more wine than those in the U.S. The French drink 45.7 liters per person per year (about 4 fl oz daily), Italians drink 42.1 liters per person per year (just under 4 fl oz), whereas Americans only drink 9.4 liters per person per year (just about 2 tablespoons or 1 fl oz).

Dairy – 1 or fewer servings daily, including yogurt, milk, and cheese. U.S. guidelines are very different – we promote 2-3 servings daily but with a focus on non-fat sources.

Red Meat – limit to 1 or fewer servings per day. 1 serving is 3 oz cooked.
And remember, it is not just the healthy foods that lower the risk of heart disease in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea - it is their way of life.

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Also, we give you this delicious recipe for Chicken Tagine with Lemon and Olives!

More Resources

Dr. Z's Mediterranean Enough Diet: A Healthful, Mediterranean-Style Diet for Americans. This is a fun website with lots of helpful tips on translating Mediterranean style of eating for the American palate. Lots of recipes too.

Harvard Health Publications. Mediterranean-Type Diets.

World Health Organization. (Worldwide) Deaths from Coronary Heart Disease. 2002. This colorful map is a great visual tool for identifying countries with high death rates from heart disease.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Diabetes/Health Meal Planning & Diets/Low Fat & High Fat Meal Planning & Diets/Mediterranean Style

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