The Mediterranean Diet

by in Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, Heart Disease February 5, 2008

PhotobucketThis diet is based on the diet typically consumed on the island of Crete that is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, healthy protein sources (fish, legumes, etc.) and complex carbohydrates. Fat calories account for 35-45% of total calories.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids have the potential to block and prevent all of the steps of the genesis and evolution of heart disease and heart attack: damage to the arterial wall, inflammation, plaque formation via oxidized LDL cholesterol, plaque accumulation, final blockage of the coronary artery and arrhythmia.

They will also assist in reversing the process that may already be advanced.(1)

Clinically speaking, this amounts to lowering blood levels of total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, maintaining or raising blood HDL cholesterol levels, improving blood insulin and glucose levels and decreasing blood pressure. Proof of the diet’s efficacy comes from two main studies: the Lyon Diet Heart Study and the Diet and Reinfarction Trial (DART). (2, 3)

In the 1989 DART study in England, two thousand men who were recovering from recent heart attacks were assigned to one of three quite different diets:

  1. High fiber
  2. Low saturated fat and high in omega-6 oils (standard heart diet)
  3. A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish or supplements.

The patients on the high omega-3 fatty acids diet had a 29% lower death rate, which at the time was the greatest reduction in mortality from any heart diet.(4)

In a study of heart attack patients, those on the Mediterranean diet had a 76% lower risk for major cardiovascular events (subsequent heart attack, unstable angina and stroke) compared to a similar group of heart attack patients on a standard American diet.(5)

Concerns regarding the Mediterranean diet are the extra calories from the high olive oil intake, decreased iron and decreased calcium because of decreased dairy intake. Cooking in cast iron pans, consuming foods high in iron, calcium and Vitamin C or supplementing these nutrients will avoid these deficiencies.(6)

Note: The following dietary guidelines may include foods to which some individuals may have allergies, sensitivities or intolerances and in those cases those foods should be avoided. Dietary choices should be made according to your own individual needs.

Consult your physician for nutritional information pertaining to your specific medical condition(s). In the case of patients with heart disease, your naturopathic team will design a comprehensive treatment protocol that will likely include diet, exercise, stress management, supplements and other modalities.

  • Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, herring, mackerel), walnuts, canola oil, flaxseeds and green leafy vegetables. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be supplemented.
  • Use olive oil and canola oil as your primary fat sources.
  • Eat seven or more servings of fresh vegetables and fruits daily.
  • For protein sources, rely on fish and vegetable protein including legumes, beans, peas and nuts.
  • Avoid saturated fat by choosing lean meat over fatty meat. Eat red meat only a few times a month, if at all.
  • Choose nonfat or low fat over full-fat dairy products.
  • Avoid oils that are high in omega-6 fatty acids including corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean and cottonseed oils.
  • Minimize your intake of trans-fats by avoiding margarine, vegetable shortening, commercial pastries, deep fat fried foods and most prepared snacks, mixes and convenience food.
  • Season with garlic, onions, herbs.
  • Focus on high fiber from whole fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Enjoy a glass of red wine occasionally.

1. Simopoulos, Artemis P. MD and Robinson, Jo. The Omega Diet: The Lifesaving Nutritional Program Based on the Diet of the Island of Crete. 1999. HarperCollins, NY.
2. Renaud S and Paul T. “Cretan Mediterranean diet for prevention of coronary heart disease.” Am J Clin Nutr, 1995; 61 (supp) 1360S-7S.
3. Burr ML, Gilbert JF and Deadman NM. Effects of changes in fat, fish, and fibre intakes on death and myocardial infarction: Diet and Reinfarction Trial (DART). The Lancet, 1989. September 30, 1989: 757-761.

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