What is the Mediterranean diet?

The traditional Mediterranean diet is based on typical eating habits from the early 1960's in some Mediterranean areas, including parts of Greece and Southern Italy. During that time, the rates of coronary heart disease were among the lowest in the world and the life expectancy rates were among the highest. These trends were attributed to the eating habits in the regions. More recently, in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Mediterranean diet was shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death related to heart problems by 30%.

What kinds of foods are included in the Mediterranean diet?

The focus on the Mediterranean diet is on plant-based foods. The diet is rich in fruits, vegtables, legumes, fish, nuts and olive oil. This type of diet is proven to help reduce "bad" cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events like stroke and heart attack.

Below you will find information about the key components of the Mediterranean diet, how much you should eat (serving goals) and ways to incorporate the foods into the overall diet.

What are the key components of the Mediterranean diet?

Fresh fruits and vegtables

  • Serving Goal:
    • 3 servings fruit per day (I serving = 1/2 to 1 cup)
    • 3+ services vegtables per day (1 serving = 1/2 cooked or 1 cup raw)
  • Ways to incorporate:
    • Have at least 1 serving at each meal or choose as a snack.

Legumes (beans and lentils)

  • Serving Goal:
    • 3 servings per week (1 serving =1/2 cup)
  • Ways to incorporate
    • Add salad, soups and pasta dishes; try hummus or bean dip for veggies or a veggie or bean burger.

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

  • Serving Goal
    • At least 1 Tbsp per day (no more than 4 Tbsp per day)
  • Ways to incorporate
    • Use instead of vegtabel oil and animal fats (butter, sour cream, mayonnaise). Drizzle on salads, cooked vegtables, posta or as a dip for bread.

Fish (especially fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids)

  • Serving Goal
    • 3 servings per week (1 serving =3-4 ounces)
  • Ways to incorporate
    • Fish rich in omega-3s include salmon, sardines, herring, tuna and mackerel.

Nuts: Ideally walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts

  • Serving Goal
    • At least 3 servings per week (1 serving =1 ounce or 1/4 cup or 2 Tbsp nut butter)
  • Ways to incorporate
    • Add to hot or cold cereal, salad and yogurt. Choose raw, unsalted and dry roasted varieties alone or with dried fruit as a snack.

Whole grains and starchy vegtables (potatoes, peas and corn)

  • Serving Goal
    • 3-6 servings per day (1 serving = 1/2 cup cooked; 1 slice of bread or 1 oz dry cereal)
  • Ways to incorporate
    • Choose oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice or a baked or roasted red skin or sweet potato. Choose whole grain bread, cereal, couscous and pasta.

Poultry (white meat)

  • Serving Goal
    • Choose white meat instead of dark meat
  • Ways to incorporate
    • Choose skinless white meat poultry that is baked, broiled or grilled.

Dairy and Eggs

  • Serving Goal
    • Limit cheese to 3 servings per week
    • No limit on egg whites; eat egg yolks in moderation
  • Ways to incorporate
    • Choose fat-free or 1% milk, yogurt and cottage cheese.
    • Natural light or part-skim cheese.
    • Avoid whole-milk dairy, cream and cream-based sauces and dressings.

Red Meat (beef, pork, veal and lamb)

  • Serving Goal
    • None, no more than 1 serving per week (1 serving =3 ounces)
  • Ways to incorporate
    • Limit to lean cuts, such as tenderloin, sirloin and flank steak.

Wine (optional)

  • Serving Goal
    • 1-2 glasses per day (glass =3 1/2 ounces; one serving per day for women; two servings for men)
  • Ways to incorporate
    • If you do not drink, the American Heart Association cautions people NOT to start drinking. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation.

Baked goods and desserts

  • Serving Goal
    • Avoid commercial baked goods/sweets and desserts. Limit homemade goods to less than 3 times/week; instead choose fruit and nonfat yogurt
  • Ways to incorporate
    • Bake using liquid oil instead of sold fats; whole grain flour instead of bleached or enriched flour; and egg whites instead of whole eggs.

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