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Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Heart Disease


By Betty Garrity MPH, RD
Internship Coordinator
UC San Diego Medical Center Dietetic Internship

The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating pattern based upon the traditional foods and cooking styles of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is primarily a plant-based diet rich in monounsaturated fats and minimally processed foods.

The traditional diet consists of a rich intake of olive oil, fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereals, a moderate amount of fish and poultry, low consumption of dairy products, red meat and processed meats, sweets, and wine consumed in moderation with meals.

A large-scale, five-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds) reduced the risk of major cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart attack and death.

The researchers believe it was most likely the extra-virgin olive oil and nuts that provided the greatest benefit to study participants. Fish and legume consumption also showed improved health benefit. Calories were not restricted in this study.

If interested in following the basic eating pattern of the Mediterranean and reaping its potential rewards, include the following in your diet:

  • Generous amounts of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Herbs and spices to replace salt as food flavorings
  • Small portions of red meat only a few times per week
  • Fish or shellfish at least twice a week
  • Small portions of walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds regularly
  • Red wine, in moderation, if appropriate
  • Regular exercise and an active lifestyle
  • Mealtimes enjoyed with others


Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor, written by Sheila Kealey and Vicky A. Newman, with Susan Faerber, gives great recipes and information on how to use nutrition to battle cancer.