Mediterranean Diet in the News…Cheers to Decreasing Heart Disease!

by Meri on March 1, 2013

Well…if you haven’t heard the news yet, some pretty significant research on the Mediterranean diet was released this week. While there is a good body of research supporting the Mediterranean diet this particular study published in the New England Journal of Medicine is the first of it’s kind significantly linking diet with a decrease in heart disease. Let’s put it this way…this study suggests that following a Mediterranean style of eating can decrease the risk of a cardiac event as much as/or more than many popular medications out there. Pretty exciting stuff!

In short the study observed over 7,400 individuals who were at high risk of heart disease over 5 years. The participants were either assigned a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts and a traditional westernized low fat diet. Over 5 years they found the folks using either of the Mediterranean style diets had a 30% reduction in cardiac events.

The truth is…this isn’t really a “diet” at all. It is simply the way life was lived in specific regions of the Mediterranean coast 50 years ago, mainly Southern Italy and Crete. The hallmarks of this diet (way of eating) include:

- High consumption of fruits, vegetables and legumes (5 to 9 servings of fruits and veggies a day!)

- Low saturated fat vs. a total low fat diet

- Olive oil (good quality) as the main source of fat

- Whole grains used in smaller portions

- Wine in moderation

- Seafood several times a week

I am passionate about this way of life and always excited to see research that supports this style of eating. However, my passion is less about me being a dietitian and promoting only one way of eating and more about my Southern Italian roots. We grew up with most of these diet principals and it’s part of mine and others family cultures. This doesn’t mean you have to only eat Greek and Italian food though. It’s the basic principles of the diet pattern to look at. Do you serve several fruits and veggies with each meal? Do you make some sort of seafood several times a week? Use olive oil for most of your cooking and dressings? These are the small changes that can create a healthy diet even if you don’t want to eat cultural specific recipes.

Probably the biggest aspect of this style of eating is the low amount of processed/packaged foods. It’s no big deal to  have these items once in awhile but getting back to whole foods is the biggest hurdle Americans face. The downfall of the Western diet is convenience. We’ve taken it to a level of eating mostly processed foods and very little real food.

The good news with a Mediterranean Diet is it doesn’t have to include cooking complex recipes and spending hours in the kitchen. Adding more vegetables to your plate can be as simple as slicing up some cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers and serving them along side your cooked meal.

I for one am thrilled with the new research and will continue to prepare foods in a way that is also part of my own family culture. Yep…I’ll celebrate that we eat cod at Christmas, have tomato sauce with everything and use chick peas as fast food. And wine…have I mentioned the additional perk of wine? Cheers to the Mediterranean Diet!

Here’s a few of my favorite Mediterranean style recipes previously posted:

Grilled Fennel

Rice Stuffed Tomatoes

Chicken Stew with Chickpeas and Plum Tomatoes

Simple Salad Dressing


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