8 Best Heart-Healthy Mediterranean Diet Foods
The Mediterranean diet has been named the healthiest diet around for years, and that is for good reason. It can boost your heart health, strengthen your brain, help with weight loss and slash your risk for a variety of chronic diseases. The Mediterranean diet is also less restrictive than many popular diets. It focuses on a balanced variety of whole foods including olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish (you can also enjoy a little wine in moderation).
The Mediterranean diet is a great option for someone looking to eat for better heart health. Research shows that compared to a low-fat diet, eating a Mediterranean diet with olive oil or nuts can help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. This is in part due to its focus on healthy fats, antioxidants and high-potassium foods like fruits and vegetables. To help you get started, here are some of the best heart-healthy Mediterranean diet foods to add to your plate.
8 Best Heart-Healthy Mediterranean Diet Foods
1. Olive oil
Olive oil is one of the mainstays of the Mediterranean diet and is used in everything from cooking to salad dressings. Not only is it delicious, but it also delivers impressive heart-healthy benefits. Studies have found that olive oil has anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive qualities, which can help keep your blood pressure in check. It also has been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce risk of stroke.
Fish is a healthy source of protein that also delivers healthy fats, making it perfect for both a Mediterranean and heart-healthy diet. Oily fish, like salmon and tuna, are especially rich in omega-3 fats, which improve blood lipid levels and lower blood pressure. (In fact, these fish make our list of best foods to eat for your heart.)
Shellfish like shrimp also pack in protein, niacin and selenium, which help keep your heart and body running in tip-top shape. (Learn more about why shrimp and other shellfish can be some of the healthiest Mediterranean diet foods to eat.)
3. Leafy greens
It may not be a surprise to see leafy greens on this list since they are one of the most nutrient-dense foods around, meaning they pack a lot of nutrition into very few calories. They are high in fiber, potassium and vitamin K, which help regulate blood pressure and improve blood clotting. Add spinach, lettuce, kale, collards, chard or cabbage to your plate to reap the benefits. Mediterranean diets are rich in vegetables, so try our Greek-Style Spinach Salad or Sautéed Broccoli & Kale with Toasted Garlic Butter as a dinner side.
Pictured Recipe: Asparagus & Baby Kale Caesar Salad
4. Whole grains
The Mediterranean diet is not a low-carb diet, but it does focus on healthier carbohydrates, including whole grains (learn more about why the real Mediterranean diet focuses on healthy carbohydrates). Compared to refined grains, whole grains are full of fiber and nutrients crucial for heart health. Unrefined grains are the base of most Mediterranean meals, be it pasta, bread, barley or couscous. Recipes like Lemon-Tahini Couscous with Chicken & Vegetables make protecting your heart delicious.
From pasta sauce to caprese and more, tomatoes are just as versatile as they are heart-healthy. Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene that can protect arteries from atherosclerosis and other forms of cardiovascular disease. Lycopene has also been associated with healthier cholesterol levels. The antioxidants and potassium in tomatoes pair up to help reduce blood pressure and reduce stroke risk, as well.
Beans are a versatile protein source and feature prominently in the Mediterranean diet, especially since it prioritizes eating plenty of plants. Thanks to the fiber found in beans, eating them can help lower cholesterol (learn more about why fiber is so good for you). Try adding chickpeas to your salad, enjoying lentil soup or using hummus as a dip for vegetables.
7. Nuts & seeds
Nuts are packed with heart-healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Research shows that eating nuts regularly is good for your heart (learn more about the health benefits of eating nuts). Like many foods in the Mediterranean diet, nuts are also full of antioxidants that give a heart-healthy boost. Try grabbing a handful as a snack, using them to add some crunch to your salad or crushing them up to make Roasted Pistachio-Crusted Salmon with Broccoli.
Last but certainly not least, berries are a staple of both the Mediterranean and heart-healthy eating patterns. Berries are full of potassium, vitamin C and fiber that help keep your blood pressure and arteries at their healthiest. Eating berries, like blueberries, regularly has been linked to significant improvements in cholesterol, blood clotting and blood vessel function. Mix them into smoothies or top a yogurt parfait with them. If fresh berries are out of season, try frozen. They're just as healthy as fresh—just check the labels to make sure there's no added sugar.
Pictured Recipe: Fresh Berries with Warm Tequila-Lime Foam
The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest around for a variety of reasons. If you are looking to eat for a healthy heart, many of its principles are relevant. To help you get started, try eating these foods packed with fiber, nutrients and healthy fats to help make eating healthy taste great.