Take It or Leave It? The Truth About 8 Mediterranean Diet Staples

Dr. Carl Lavie, medical director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention at the Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans, La., agreed. "In other populations, fish has been very protective, which may be applicable in our population with a high amount of obesity and [cardiovascular] risk factors," he said.

Ayoob noted, however, that the way that fish and seafood is prepared could be an important factor.

"Fatty fish tend to lower bad cholesterol and there are lots of other benefits," he said. "My advice? Keep eating fish, just don't deep-fry it and you'll have the benefit, even if this particular study didn't find much."


One aspect of the Mediterranean diet that authors agreed was a strong contributor to its success was the presence of nuts. Aside from contributing a healthy helping of unsaturated fatty acids, nuts like almonds and walnuts offer a wealth of nutrients including calcium potassium and fiber.

The research released yesterday is not the first to suggest the importance of nuts to the Mediterranean diet. A study published last December in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that adding an extra portion of nuts to the traditional Mediterranean regimen offered a promising way to help control the risk of metabolic disease in older adults who had a high heart disease risk.

"It's high time nuts got their share of the limelight," Ayoob said. "Almonds and walnuts are favorites in the Greek diet, and they're both tied to better heart health."

Katz added that just as important as what nuts contain is what they do not. He said they tend to be free of harmful fats, as well as sugar and salt if properly prepared.

Pulses (Beans)

Along with nuts and vegetables, the researchers in the new study found that beans were likely to be significant contributors to the success of the Mediterranean regimen.

"No surprise here," Ayoob said. "Beans are a near miracle food. They have some protein, lots of fiber source, iron and a ton of other nutrients and adding beans to any diet makes for a better diet.

"I'd like to see a 1/2 cup of beans on everyone's plate every day," he added.

Beans are also a standout on the Mediterranean diet menu due to their versatility. Various types of beans can be added to soups, salads and pasta sauces. And because of their high protein content, they can also be used as a meat substitute -- without adding fat and cholesterol to dishes.

And while their price may have little effect on the health of those consuming them, beans are also much cheaper per pound than meat -- an important feature for more economically-strapped dieters.


The debate over what place, if any, alcoholic beverages should hold in a healthy diet has raged among health experts for decades. As for the study at hand, researchers suggested that a moderate level of alcohol consumption, traditionally from red wine, may have a protective effect against heart disease -- thus earning it a place in the winner's column among other Mediterranean diet staples.

"Regarding the components of the diet,the strongest association was regarding protection from moderate alcohol," Lavie said.

Indeed, numerous past studies have suggested that resveratrol -- a compound found in grapes, red wine, pomegranates and some other foods -- has a positive effect on heart health.

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