The Mediterranean diet: the gold standard for heart-healthy eating

May is National Mediterranean Diet Month

mediterranean Blog

Extra virgin olive oil in the diet has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease

Are you looking for the most “heart-healthy” meal plan?

For years, the recommended diet to prevent heart disease was a low-fat diet. Then, as research began to reveal the negative effects of sugar and refined carbohydrates — often included in low-fat meals — many people turned to a low-carb diet. But low-carb does not necessarily mean “healthy.”

Now, more and more evidence points to a traditional Mediterranean meal plan as one of the healthiest eating patterns. A study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2/25/2013), shows that a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease by 30 percent in people at high risk for heart disease.

The Mediterranean diet promotes…

  •  A diet of primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  •  Using healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil instead of butter
  •  Replacing salt with herbs and spices for flavor
  •  Consuming red meat only a few times a month
  •  Eating fish at least twice a week
  •  Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
  •  Regular exercise
  •  Sharing meals with family and friends

Study findings

The study, conducted in Spain, included 7,447 people (ages 55-80), all of whom were at high risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) but had no heart disease at the beginning of the study. People were randomly assigned to one of three different diets:

  • A control diet with reduced dietary fats
  • A Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil
  • A Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts

The people in these latter groups received either 1 liter of free olive oil per week or 30 grams (about 1 ounce) of free nuts per day. Those in the low-fat group received small non-food gifts.There were no calorie restrictions and no encouragement to change exercise.

All of the participants had been consuming some form of a Mediterranean diet prior to the study, but by the end of the study the control group was eating less fat. After 4.8 years, the study was stopped when it became apparent that the people in the two Mediterranean diet groups were experiencing less CVD than the other two groups (heart attack, stroke, or death from CVD).

The Mediterranean eating pattern is taught in the University of Michigan Metabolic Fitness Program to improve cardiovascular health via healthy lifestyle changes. If you’re looking for a heart-healthy eating plan, the Mediterranean diet might be the right choice for you.

Recipe: Mediterranean Bean Salad

  • 1 (15 oz) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 oz) can butter beans, rinsed and drained (cooked fresh beans may be substituted)
  • 1 (15-oz) can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped fine
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped fine
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped fine (1 Tbsp. dried basil may be substituted)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped fine
  • 2 tomatoes, diced


  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vinegar (either white wine or apple cider work well)
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 Tbsp. dried Italian seasoning
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In large bowl combine beans. Mix in onion, celery, garlic, parsley, basil and rosemary, adding tomatoes last to keep them from unnecessarily breaking apart.

In separate mixing bowl whisk together dressing ingredients. Add dressing to beans and toss gently to coat.

Chill for at least an hour to allow beans to absorb the flavor of the dressing. Re-toss gently and serve.

Makes 8 servings. Serving: 3/4 cup.

Per serving: 190 calories, 7 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat), 26 g carbohydrate, 9 g protein, 8 g dietary fiber, 228 mg sodium.

From the American Institute for Cancer Research Health-e-Recipes.

Weintraub 2 150x150Martha Weintraub, ACSW, MPH, RDN, is a member of the outpatient nutrition team at the Cardiovascular Medicine Clinic at Domino’s Farms.




Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.