By: Susan Brueggemann, Registered Dietitian
The Mediterranean Diet was based on the dietary traditions of Crete, Greece and southern Italy circa 1960 when the rates of chronic disease among populations were among the lowest in the world and adult life expectancy was among the highest even though medical services were limited.
As time passed by, this eating pattern was thought of as the “poor” diet for the people of the southern Mediterranean region. By default, this population resisted all the modernization of foods in most industrialized countries which led to an increased consumption of more meat and processed convenience foods.
Research has shown that the Mediterranean Diet reduces the risk of heart disease. It has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol as well.
The Mediterranean Diet is plant-based. It favors olive oil loaded with heart healthy unsaturated fats while limiting saturated and trans fats. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommends the Mediterranean Diet as an eating plan that can help promote health and prevent disease.
One major difference between the Mediterranean Diet and other diets is the frequency and amounts of foods are very non-specific, which is intentional. The reason for this is dietary variation is considered ideal; encouraging individuals to eating a variety of healthy foods.
Other vital elements of the Mediterranean pyramid that are different from most food pyramids include incorporating daily exercise and emphasizing the importance of sharing meals with others.
As with any diet, portion control is still important. Excess calories, even from the healthiest foods, can result in weight gain.
One final note is that even though olive oil and nuts are heart healthy, they are also high calorie. Limit portions to control calories; no more than ¼ cup of unsalted or lightly salted nuts and 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil daily.
Ten Tenants of the Mediterranean Diet Guidelines:
- An abundance of food from plant sources, including fruits and vegetables, potatoes, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Emphasis on a variety of minimally processed and, wherever possible, seasonally fresh and locally grown foods.
- Olive oil as the principal fat, replacing other fats and oils (including butter and margarine).
- Total fat ranging from less than 25-35 percent of energy, with saturated fat no more than 7 to 8 percent of calories or 16 grams on a 2000 calorie diet.
- Daily consumption of low to moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt (low-fat and non-fat versions are preferable).
- Twice-weekly consumption of low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry (recent research suggests that fish be somewhat favored over poultry); up to 7 eggs per week (including those used in cooking and baking).
- Fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert; sweets with a significant amount of sugar (often as honey) and saturated fat consumed not more than a few times per week.
- Red meat a few times per month (recent research suggests that if red meat is eaten, its consumption should be limited to a maximum of 12 to 16 ounces per month; where the flavor is acceptable, lean versions such as the loin and round cuts are preferable.
- Regular physical activity at a level which promotes a healthy weight, fitness and well-being.
- Moderate consumption of wine, normally with meals; about one to two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women. From a contemporary public health perspective, wine should be considered optional and avoided when consumption would put the individual or others at risk.
We invite you to attend ladies night out on Feb. 20. The event features Mediterranean cuisine and wine paired with inspiring discussions about keeping yourself heart healthy. Visit meriterheart.com to register.