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Mediterranean Diet and Heart Health

The Mediterranean diet is gaining a lot of popularity in the nutrition space, for good reason. Research has shown this style of eating to be beneficial for reducing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, and that it may improve mental health.

So, what exactly is this diet?

The diet traditionally originates from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and is based on the common foods eaten in this region. This style of eating includes all five core food groups of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, but in different quantities.

The diet is based around some common principles including:

  • Eating higher amounts of plant-based foods including vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, and legumes
  • Using olive oil daily as the primary source of dietary fat
  • Consuming fish and poultry in moderate amounts
  • Consuming low to moderate amounts of dairy products, including yoghurt and cheese
  • Consuming smaller amounts of red meat
  • Consuming low amounts of red wine (if drinking it at all)
  • Enjoying food socially, with family and friends
  • Engaging in physical activity you enjoy.

Foods to limit while following a Mediterranean diet:

  • Soft drinks, highly processed foods, refined oils, deep-fried foods, processed deli meat.

These are calorie dense, highly processed and don’t offer many nutritional benefits.

What makes this diet healthy?

Research supports health benefits of the Mediterranean diet for reducing cardiovascular risk factors.

The higher intake of plant-based foods increases dietary fibre. Fibre is low in calories which may help assist with weight loss. Fibre also helps with digestion and can help lower cholesterol (high cholesterol is associated with higher cardiovascular risk).

The diet predominantly relies on olive oil as the main source of dietary fat. Olive oil is rich in polyphenols, antioxidants and is a monounsaturated fat, the type of healthy fat that has been linked to lowering inflammation and may be protective for heart health.

By lowering consumption of dairy and animal products, this allows for a lower intake of saturated fats. While we do still need saturated fat in the diet, too much can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and may lead to weight gain.

How to start introducing more of these principles everyday:

  • Aim to fill half your plate with veggies and salad at each main meal
  • Aim to have fish at least 2-3 times per week
  • Always opt for wholegrain sources when buying bread, wraps, grains or cereals
  • Have a small handful of unsalted nuts each day for a snack
  • Cook your meals in extra virgin olive oil, and use as a salad dressing
  • Aim to have red meat once a week, focusing more on fish, poultry and plant-based sources of protein
  • Snack on fruit – aim for 2 pieces each day.

Overall, following a Mediterranean diet is a long-term, sustainable way to help create a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle.

If you would like to speak to one our dietitians about a nutritional support program best suited to your individual needs, please call our friendly team on 07 5414 1100 to make an appointment. You can also find out more about our dietitians here.