February is American Heart Month. There is no time like the present to focus on healthy eating to promote a healthy heart.
One of the best heart-healthy diets is the Mediterranean diet. Not only is this a great diet to lose weight, but it's a sustainable lifestyle change. It is one of the diets that Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends for promoting health and preventing chronic disease.
Enriched with healthy snacks, healthy foods, loads of nutrition, and allowances for discretionary eating, this diet is also recognized by the World Health Organization as healthy and sustainable.
Furthermore, this diet adheres to The American Heart Association’s recommendations for healthy eating.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is a versatile diet that is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet is a great way to replace the saturated fats in the average American diet. It is linked to stronger bones, cardiovascular health, a lower risk of dementia and breast cancer, a longer life and a reduced risk for diabetes and high blood pressure.
The main components of Mediterranean diet include:
- Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
- Weekly intake of fish, poultry and eggs
- Consumption of legumes, nuts and seeds
- Moderate intake of dairy products
- Limited intake of red meat
- Being physically active
12 Ways To Start Eating The Mediterranean Way
Here are 12 ways to get started on incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your meal plan.
- Eat more fruit. Try to eat seven to 10 servings a day of your favorite fruits. You can never go wrong with fruit, but some staples include apples, bananas, grapes and oranges.
- Eat more vegetables. Aim for seven to 10 servings a day of vegetables. Some options include spinach, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, onions and bell peppers. Try out different vegetables and see what you like!
- Eat more seafood. Try to eat fish at least twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices. Eat it grilled or baked. Don’t eat deep-fried fish, and make sure your seafood is locally sourced.
- Use healthy fats. Try to replace butter with extra virgin olive oil when cooking. If you’re adventurous, try avocado as a replacement for butter in your desserts. Other healthy fats include legumes, nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds and cashews.
- Be a home chef. Meal prep healthy recipes for the week in advance to ensure you always have a healthy option instead of fast food or dining out.
- Eat Fit. Ochsner Eat Fit has restaurant recommendations throughout the state where you can eat heart-healthy meals even while dining out.
- Choose whole grains. Switch to whole-grain (or whole-wheat) bread, cereal and pasta. Experiment with other whole grains, such as bulgur and farro. Choose whole-wheat rice, pastas and breads over white options to maintain nutritional value.
- Reduce red meat. Substitute red meat for fish, poultry or beans. If you eat meat, make sure it's lean (like turkey or boneless skinless chicken breasts) and keep portions small.
- Eat dairy. If you can eat dairy products, enjoy low-fat Greek or plain yogurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses, such as gouda, brie or goat cheese. Avoid flavored yogurt, which is high in added sugars. Instead, add your own sweetness with fruits or honey.
- Add some spice. Herbs and spices boost flavor without needing to add a lot of extra salt. Be generous with spices suited to your tastes and tolerance levels.
- Eat more beans and eggs. With beans, try black beans or garbanzo beans also known as chickpeas.
- Embrace natural sugars. Try to choose fruit for a sweet treat over snacks that have high added sugar content. And when you do choose a sugary dessert, eat in moderation. Try to opt for fruit instead of chocolate, cakes or cookies a few times a week.
What About The Keto Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a great alternative to the popular ketogenic diet, which is commonly called the keto diet.
Traditionally designed to help control seizures in some people with epilepsy, the keto diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. In the medical sense, this diet is prescribed by a physician and carefully monitored by a dietitian.
Americans like the keto diet because of its claims of quick weight loss. However, there are a lot of drawbacks to the keto diet when attempting to sustain it long-term.
The Mediterranean diet on the other hand is sustainable and involves reasonable food changes that allows you to eat a variety of foods. Incorporating healthy habits from the Mediterranean diet into your life would increase the likelihood of your sustaining a heart-healthy diet.
For the third year in a row, the Mediterranean diet was ranked 1st in U.S. News and World Report's 2020 ranking of best diets.
“The hallmarks of a 'best' diet include balance, maintainability, palatability, family-friendliness, sustainability, along with healthfulness,” said Yale University Prevention Research Center founding director Dr. David Katz, who was one of the 25 judges on the U.S. News and World Report panel.
If you have a medical condition or are on medications, you should always consult your doctor. The Mediterranean diet, like any diet, should be paired with an active lifestyle to sustain a heart-healthy you!
Book a cardiology appointment with Dr. Pavan Malur. Learn more at