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Heart Health: Tips and Recipes to Help You Master the Mediterranean Diet
Help keep your cardiovascular system healthy with this popular, budget-friendly diet.
Caroline IgoEditor, Sleep
Caroline Igo (she/her/hers) is a wellness editor and holds Sleep Science Coach and Stress Management certificates from the Spencer Institute. She received her bachelor's degree in creative writing from Miami University and continues to further her craft in her free time. Before joining CNET, Caroline wrote for past CNN anchor, Daryn Kagan.
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Carl R. Greer/Andrew D. Hepburn Award for Best Nonfiction Essay (Miami University, 2020)
Amelia Ti is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) based in NYC. She completed her Bachelor's in Nutrition & Dietetics at NYU and Master's in Applied Nutrition at Russell Sage College. Amelia's evidence-based knowledge and passion for the field allow her to translate nutrition research and innovation to the public.
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Imagine living along the Mediterranean Sea. Does it sound like a beautiful, out-of-touch dream?
While you may not be able to pack your bags and move to Greece, you can eat Mediterranean cuisine from the comfort of your own home. Named the best diet of 2023 by US News and World Report, the Mediterranean diet brings the Mediterranean vacation to you with added health benefits for your heart. Here's everything you need to know about this nutrient-rich and nonrestrictive diet.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the traditional diets of people who live along the Mediterranean coast. While each country's diet may vary from the next, the Mediterranean diet consists mainly of plant-based foods, seafood, lean poultry, whole grains, nuts, beans, olive oil, herbs and spices. The key is to eat as much fresh food as possible since highly processed foods are limited in the diet.
Green Mediterranean diet
A recent popular variation of the Mediterranean diet is referred to as the Green Mediterranean diet. Instead of having red and processed meats on occasion with the regular Mediterranean diet, the Green Mediterranean diet cuts out meats altogether and places more focus on plant-based foods. There is a set amount of calories and protein to hit each day, in addition to three recommendations. Each day, an individual must obtain 100 grams of duckweed (an aquatic plant, usually put in a shake), 3 to 4 cups of green tea and 1 ounce of walnuts. A 2021 study found that the Green Mediterranean diet variation may be healthier for one's heart than the original diet. It may even be more effective in preventing and managing chronic diseases. A 2022 study found that the diet may aid in age-related brain health.
In addition to being a great diet for those who are kosher, vegetarian or budget-conscious, the Mediterranean diet has many health benefits.
The most well-known benefit of this diet is its potential to boost heart health. A 2019 study concluded that the Mediterranean diet could lower your risk of stroke and heart disease. Also, due to the lower saturated fat content in the diet, another study found that it can slow the process of plaque building up in the arteries.
This diet may help you lose weight and maintain long-term weight loss. A 2020 study found that participants who lost at least 10% of their body weight on the Mediterranean diet were two times more likely to keep the weight off.
Note that any diet is not complete without added exercise. If you are serious about weight loss, add daily exercise to your routine in addition to a new diet.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the easiest to follow, and counting calories is not required. While there are no strict rules, there are a few recommendations. These include eating fish or seafood at least twice a week, drinking lots of water, eating a wide range of foods and filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and olive oil, daily. On top of these recommendations, your meals and snacks are up to you. Here is what you are encouraged to eat.
A glass of red wine with meals (no more than one glass for women, two glasses for men)
A bit of dark chocolate
Foods to limit on the Mediterranean diet
While no foods are "off-limits," try to rarely eat the following:
Sugary foods and drinks
Fill your grocery list with these meal ideas for the week.
Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and a cup of tea
Whole-wheat toast with natural peanut butter and a cup of coffee (added cream and sugar in moderation)
Chicken orzo soup with vegetables
Greek salad with olives, avocado and feta cheese
Salmon cooked in olive oil, brown rice and roasted vegetables
Tuna over quinoa and arugula with olive oil vinaigrette dressing
Assorted nuts and seeds with natural cheese
Pita bread and vegetables with hummus
Is the Mediterranean diet for you?
Although named the best diet of 2023, the Mediterranean diet is not for everyone. Talk to your doctor before making any major dietary changes. If you are considering trying this diet for yourself, here are some points to keep in mind.
You should try the Mediterranean diet if:
You do well with nonrestrictive diets
You already eat lots of seafood, plant-based foods and whole grains
You are looking for a budget-friendly and diet low in unhealthy fats and high in healthy fats
Try another diet or seek a dietitian if:
You need more structure or require some foods to be completely off-limits
You have major food restrictions or allergies
You need a tailored diet, weight loss and exercise plans
Mediterranean diet FAQs
What is not allowed on the Mediterranean diet?
Technically, no foods are strictly "off-limits" on the Mediterranean diet. You should try to either cut back or avoid processed foods (especially processed meats), red meats, white breads and pastas, butter, processed oils and excessive alcohol (besides red wine).
Can you eat eggs on the Mediterranean diet?
Yes, you can eat eggs in moderation on the Mediterranean diet. If you have high cholesterol, try not to have more than four egg yolks in one week.
Can you eat bananas on the Mediterranean diet?
Yes, you can eat bananas on the Mediterranean diet. It is recommended to eat lots of fruits and vegetables on this diet.
Which cheese is OK to eat on the Mediterranean diet?
Natural cheeses are the best to eat on the Mediterranean diet. While there are no restrictions, the diet recommends limiting processed cheese. Stay away from heavily processed cheeses like American cheese or cheese-in-a-can. Instead, lean toward natural cheeses like mozzarella, feta, cheddar, swiss, parmesan or muenster.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.