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Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health

The traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation, consumed with meals.1  In a secondary prevention trial (the Lyon Diet Heart Study),4 increasing adherence to the Mediterranean diet has been consistently beneficial with respect to cardiovascular risk.2-4 A systematic review ranked the Mediterranean diet as the most likely dietary model to provide protection against coronary heart disease.5 Small clinical trials have uncovered reasonable biologic mechanisms to explain the salutary effects of this food pattern.
The Mediterranean diet is a long term eating plan that is associated with heart health and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The Mayo Clinic explains that, “Interest in the Mediterranean diet began in the 1960s with the observation that coronary heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy, than in the U.S. and northern Europe”. Better known as an eating style rather than a strict diet, it has a strong foundation of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, beans, and whole grains – making it not only delicious, but sustainable as well! 

These are the main components of the Mediterranean diet:

·        Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats

·        Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs

·        Moderate portions of dairy products

·        Limited intake of red meat

The Mayo Clinic also emphasizes the other important elements of the Mediterranean diet like sharing meals with family and friends, enjoying a glass of red wine and being physically active. Remember that meals in the Mediterranean diet are plant-based, not meat-based, and that healthy fats from fatty fish and olive oil are important. In fact, olive oil provides monosaturated fat, which unlike saturated or trans fats, has been found to lower cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. Fatty fish like sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon are rich in Omega-3s and also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and minimize the risk of stroke and heart failure. A healthy diet can also improve your ability to think, remember and process information as you age (American Heart Association).

Now that you know how beneficial this diet can be for your long term health, it’s time to start eating the Mediterranean way! If you struggle to remember what foods don’t fit in the Mediterranean diet, just keep in mind that you need to limit added sugars, sodium, highly processed foods, and unhealthy fats. Also, avoid foods that offer a lot of calories but little nutritional value. To limit salt intake, you can spice up your meals with fresh herbs (check out our helpful guide to cooking with herbs: It’s all about eating whole and fresh foods. To get you started, we’ve included an easy dinner recipe at the end of this blog post, along with a grocery shopping list and weekly meal planner. Don’t wait – use these tools to start incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle. Your heart will thank you!

Healthy Dinner Recipe:

Grocery Checklist

Mediterranean Diet Weekly Meal Planner Menu

With the collaboration of Ilderina Kekic, Office Specialist, University of Florida IFAS Extension


1. Willett WC, Sacks F, Trichopoulou A, et al. Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;61:Suppl:1402S-1406S

2.Sofi F, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. Accruing evidence on benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet on health: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;92:1189-1196

3.Serra-Majem L, Roman B, Estruch R. Scientific evidence of interventions using the Mediterranean diet: a systematic review. Nutr Rev 2006;64:S27-S47 Lorgeril M, Salen P, Martin JL, Monjaud I, Delaye J, Mamelle N. Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation 1999;99:779-785

5.Mente A, de Koning L, Shannon HS, Anand SS. A systematic review of the evidence supporting a causal link between dietary factors and coronary heart disease. Arch Intern Med 2009;169:659-669

6.Esposito K, Marfella R, Ciotola M, et al. Effect of a Mediterranean-style diet on endothelial dysfunction and markers of vascular inflammation in the metabolic syndrome: a randomized trial. JAMA 2004;292:1440-1446