Many doctors recommend the Mediterranean diet as a heart healthy way of life. The basic principles include heavy consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, olives, olive oil, nuts and seeds, moderate intake of wine and lean meats and low intake of processed foods. Of course, exercise and meals with family and friends are also encouraged. The Mediterranean diet is in accordance with the current dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA).
The AHA’s Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet recommends only 25 to 35 percent of total calories from total fat, less than 7 percent of total calories from saturated fat and up to 20 percent of total fat from monounsaturated fat. In comparison, the Mediterranean diet recommends total fat content of 25 to 40 percent of total calories, 7 to 8 percent of total fat from saturated fat and more than 20 percent of total fat from monounsaturated fat.
Based on the similarities between the two, the Mediterranean diet definitely promotes heart health. According to the AHA, Mediterranean countries have a lower prevalence of heart disease than the United States. A large percentage of total fat in the Mediterranean diet is from monounsaturated fat. These fats help reduce heart disease risk because they don’t raise cholesterol levels the way saturated and trans fats do. The Mediterranean diet also promotes cancer-fighting antioxidants because of the emphasis on fruit and vegetables. Regular physical activity is encouraged to maintain a healthy weight as well as lower sodium intake due to the reduction of processed foods.
The Mediterranean diet is not very specific. It doesn’t include exact serving amounts per day, but rather works on total distribution of nutrients, which can be confusing. It’s not a calorie-counting diet and even the physical activity parameters are loosely defined. If you’re looking for hard and fast rules to follow, this is not the diet for you. The Mediterranean diet can also be more expensive than other diets. Plus, the recommendation of daily wine may not be advisable for people on certain medications, those with elevated triglycerides or who have pancreatitis.
If you’re looking for a heart healthy way of life, the Mediterranean diet is probably a good choice. It’s not terribly restricting (other than sweets – they’re only for very special occasions), and the recipes are delicious. However, if you’re after something more concrete with exact serving sizes and calories, the Mediterranean diet is probably not for you.