9 Healthy Foods from the Mediterranean Diet

If you’re trying to eat foods that are better for your heart, start with these nine healthy ingredients of Mediterranean cooking.

Key ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine include olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein-rich legumes, fish and whole grains with moderate amounts of wine and red meat. The flavors are rich, and the health benefits for people choosing a Mediterranean diet, one of the world's healthiest, are hard to ignore—they are less likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol or become obese. If you’re trying to eat foods that are better for your heart, start with these nine healthy ingredients of Mediterranean cooking.

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Broccoli Rabe

Broccoli Rabe

To be Italian is to appreciate dark leafy vegetables, especially this earthily bitter brassica that pairs beautifully with bold ingredients like sausage, anchovy and hot pepper. Like other cabbage family members it’s a nutrition superstar, providing plenty of vitamin C, potassium, calcium and fiber as well as carotenoids and cancer-fighting indoles and isothiocyanates.

Healthy Recipes for Broccoli Rabe

 
Chickpeas

Chickpeas

Eaten daily, combined with grains and starches, beans provide high-quality protein along with folate, calcium, iron and zinc. They also offer benefits like healthy, filling doses of fiber (both soluble and insoluble), phytates and phyto­sterols; studies suggest beans may help manage diabetes, prevent colon cancer and reduce heart disease risk.

Easy Chickpea Recipes

 
Couscous

Couscous

Traditionally unrefined grains (pasta, bread, barley, couscous) are the base of most Mediterranean diets. Leaving the grains whole lowers their glycemic index, so they are digested more slowly and produce gentler rises in glucose and insulin than refined versions; they also retain all their fiber, magnesium, vitamin E and other antioxidant phytochemicals. Diets rich in whole grains may protect against heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Healthy Couscous Recipes

 
Eggplant

Eggplant

Beloved for its toothsome texture and neutral flavor that takes up sauces beautifully, eggplant gives meaty satisfaction to a cuisine in which meat traditionally made rare appearances. While not a nutritional powerhouse, eggplant contains some fiber and potassium; chlorogenic acid, a compound concentrated in eggplant skin, may have antiviral and cancer-fighting properties.

Healthy Eggplant Recipes

 
Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts

Nut trees are almost as common as olive trees in Italy. Nuts are savored as snacks, ground into sauces and sprinkled on salads. They’re loaded with heart-friendly monounsaturated fat; they’re also rich sources of protein, fiber, vitamin E, folate, calcium and magnesium. Nut protein is also high in arginine, an amino acid that helps maintain healthy blood vessels.

Hazelnut Cookies & More Healthy Hazelnut Recipes

 
Olive Oil

Olive Oil

Prized since antiquity (original Olympic winners were awarded jugs of it), olive oil is imperative in Mediterranean cookery, especially when it comes to preparing vegetables. Rich in monounsaturated fat and (in extra-virgin types) antioxidant polyphenols; many believe its wide use throughout the Mediterranean explains much of that region’s low heart disease rates.

Olive Oil Buyer's Guide

 
Peppers

Peppers

Fresh, roasted or dried and ground into complex sauces and pastes, peppers add color to Moroccan dishes. And good nutrition: all types are rich in vitamins A and C, fiber, folate, beta carotene and vitamin K. Red peppers also deliver lycopene, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin—protective against macular degeneration.

Stuffed Peppers & More Healthy Pepper Recipes

 
Shrimp

Shrimp

Wherever Mediterraneans live close to the sea, seafood is a staple protein in their diets; any and all kinds of shellfish and fish are celebrated, often several in the same dish. While fattier types like tuna supply heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, lean specimens like shrimp, squid and sea bass provide ample protein, niacin and selenium.

Healthy Shrimp Recipes

 
Tomatoes

Tomatoes

It’s hard to believe these now-ubiquitous orbs weren’t native to the Mediterranean region (grazie, Columbus); they’re staples in every cook’s larder, fresh, canned and in paste form. Tomatoes are packed with vitamin C and lycopene, a heart-protective antioxidant that may also help prevent some cancers (particularly prostate). Plus they’re versatile enough to enjoy every day.

Tasty Tomato Recipes