What Makes The Mediterranean Diet Heart-Healthy?

All about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet

Ishi Khosla Published Sep 12, 2019 10:49:20 IST
What Makes The Mediterranean Diet Heart-Healthy? Include heart healthy foods in your daily diet. (Photo: indiapicture)

The term ‘Mediterranean diet’, which implies that all Mediterranean people have the same diet, is a misnomer. Mediterranean cuisine includes Italian, French, Spanish and Greek food. However, what they have in common is that they are all based on plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, fish, dairy and wine. These cuisines are good sources of fibre and antioxidants, and are relatively low in carbohydrates—around 40–45 per cent—compared to Indian and American diets that include around 60–70 per cent carbs.

In general, this cuisine focuses on a quality of fat—omega-3 fats from fatty fish and walnuts are anti-inflammatory and heart friendly. But does it work for Indians? You may not need to blindly switch to olive oil because traditional Indian diets also contain heart-healthy fats—mustard and sesame oil for instance. For maximum benefits, use cold-pressed organic oils instead of refined ones, which have little benefit, and avoid eating foods containing hydrogenated fat or reused oil that many commercially-prepared products have. What we should also be doing is reducing animal-fat intake and up mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Ideally, because of our predisposition to diabetes, heart disease and our fairly sedentary lives, our fat intake shouldn’t exceed 3–4 tsp (for a 1,500 kcal diet). So no, we can’t do as the Greeks do.

A tip we can take from the Mediterranean diet is to ensure that most of the grains we eat are wholegrains irrespective of the staples. Always choose a variety (millets, amaranth, brown rice), ensure that fruits and vegetables go in (6 to 9 servings, 50 per cent of which should be raw vegetables in the form of salad or vegetable juice), eat low-fat dairy, include nuts and seeds and healthy cold-pressed oils. Most importantly, limit sugar, sweets and alcohol. Adopt lighter cooking methods. In other words, go back to simple, unprocessed, fresh food, much like our forefathers ate.

Here are the nutrients from both an Indian and Mediterranean diet that will keep your heart healthy:


Regular consumption of potassium-rich foods can help control blood pressure. Good sources are potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, bananas, oranges and dry fruits.


This is needed for contraction and relaxation of heart muscles. Sources are low-fat milk, yogurt, leafy vegetables, almonds and sesame seeds.


High fibre helps lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Include grains, legumes, peas, soyabean, fruits and veggies, wheat bran and oats in your diet.

Omega-3 fats

Oils rich in polyunsaturated fats are heart healthy. Good sources include fatty fish, cold-pressed mustard oil, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, wheat, red kidney beans, flaxseeds, fenugreek seeds and soyabean.


Magnesium deficiency leads to low levels of calcium and potassium in the blood, as well as unwelcome changes in the heart and the circulatory system. Pulses, spinach, nuts and tofu are good sources.

Vitamin D

Maintain an optimum level of vitamin D—it’s critical to keep inflammation under check. Include foods like mushroom, salmon, tuna, egg yolks and fortified foods such as oatmeal, orange juice and cow’s milk.

Previously published in Prevention India©September 2015, Living Media India Limited.
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