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Mediterranean Diet Basics

The Mediterranean diet has long been thought to have heart healthy benefits.  A recent study reconfirmed this theory, showing a 30 percent reduction in heart disease for people who consume a Mediterranean diet. 

You don’t have to live in the Mediterranean to adopt this healthy way of eating.  Here are the down and dirty basics of the Mediterranean lifestyle so you too can reap the benefits.

  1. Base every meal around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans.
  2. Eat fish and seafood frequently (at least two times per week).
  3. Poultry and dairy products should be consumed in moderate portions daily.
  4. Red meats and sweets are meant to be enjoyed sparingly.  Fruits are often the dessert of choice.
  5. If you drink alcohol, consume a moderate amount of red wine. (One 5-oz glass of wine per day for women and up to two 5-oz glasses for men is considered moderate.)
  6. Use herbs and spices liberally to reduce added salt and boost health-promoting antioxidants.
  7. Replace butter with heart healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil.  Olive oil is typically the main source of dietary fat and is used in variety of ways, including cooking, baking, and preparing salads and vegetables.
  8. Exercise regularly
  9. Stay well hydrated with water
  10. Last but not least, savor your food and enjoy the company of others.  While studying abroad in Italy, I realized a large part of the Mediterranean lifestyle is simply enjoying and savoring each bite of your meal (mindful eating approach). Meal time frequently takes up to three hours in Italy.  Turn off the TV, sit around the dinner table, relax, and savor your meals in the company of family and friends.

The Mediterranean diet encourages fat from healthy sources like fish, olive oil, and nuts, but it is still possible to overindulge.  Be sure to avoid the common pitfalls of the American diet, including excess fat, salt, meat, sweets, and large portion sizes. 

If you do all of these things, you too will be following a heart healthy diet.

Amy Bowen is a registered dietitian at WakeMed Cary Hospital and is a frequent contributor to this blog.  If you have a question you would like to have Amy answer, feel free to email