The Mediterranean Heart-Healthy Diet

The Mediterranean diet is one of the easiest diets to adopt and maintain on a long-term basis because it does not require radical restriction of total amounts of fat or carbohydrate. Calorie intake should be appropriate for maintaining a normal body weight. Follow these guidelines.

  • Eat an abundance of natural, whole plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, and salads. Try for seven to ten servings daily.
  • Include whole-grain, high-fiber breads and whole-grain pasta in your meals and snacks.
  • Keep saturated fat to a minimum: choose chicken, lean cuts of red meat, and nonfat dairy products, and use butter and cheese in moderation.
  • Incorporate fatty fish in your diet, especially salmon, sardines, trout, and tuna. These are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Use olive oil as a source of monounsaturated fat.
  • Eat frequent servings of peas, beans, legumes, and nuts.
  • Drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol. Wine, especially red wine, is a good choice. Consumption should be limited to one drink daily for women, two drinks daily for men.
Avoid the following:

  • Foods high in sugar
  • Trans-fatty acids, which are found in processed foods labeled as containing "partially hydrogenated" oil
  • Processed "starchy" carbohydrates, such as food made with white flour
  • Oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean, or peanut oil

Practical suggestions for incorporating the Mediterranean diet into everyday life

Category Consume Avoid
Fruits and vegetables Wide variety of whole fruits and vegetables; try for at least 7-10 servings per day Vegetables prepared in butter or cream sauces
High-fiber breads, cereals, and pasta Whole-grain bread and cereal, bran, brown rice Sweets, white bread, biscuits, breadsticks, and other refined carbohydrates
Protein that is low in saturated fat Lean cuts of meat (fat trimmed) or poultry (no skin); low-fat dairy foods (skim milk, yogurt) Bacon, sausage, other processed or high-fat meat, milk or cheese that is not low-fat, ice cream
Fish or other source of omega-3 fatty acids, at least 1 or 2 times per wk Salmon, trout, herring, water-packed tuna, mackerel (or fish oil supplement); flaxseed, spinach, walnuts Fried fish (except when pan-fried in olive oil)
Healthy oils for cooking, salad dressing, and other uses Extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil ("high-oleic" sunflower or safflower oil may also be an option) Omega-6 oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean, peanut)
Peas, beans, legumes, and nuts Soybeans, lentils, or any kind of peas, beans, or legumes; tree nuts (eg, almonds, pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts) Heavily salted or honey-roasted nuts; stale or rancid nuts
Alcohol One 5-oz glass of wine, a 12-oz beer, or a 1.5-oz drink containing distilled spirits with the evening meal Limit to no more than 1 drink daily for women, 2 drinks daily for men
Fat Emphasize whole, natural foods as above; look for "trans-fatty acid-free" margarine and snack foods Fast food, fried food, margarine, chips, crackers, baked goods, doughnuts, any processed food made with partially hydrogenated oil