Cardiovascular Disease and the Mediterranean Diet

By Kristin Carli, RD

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

The term cardiovascular disease, also referred to as heart disease, includes many problems related to the heart and blood vessels, such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Although there can be various causes of heart disease, most of these conditions are associated with hypertension (high blood pressure) and atherosclerosis. Both hypertension and atherosclerosis are preventable with a healthy diet and regular physical activity.

Atherosclerosis is characterized by a hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels caused by plaque buildup. Plaque forms when too much cholesterol gets lodged in the wall of the arteries. Excess blood levels of LDL cholesterol (also known as bad cholesterol), triglycerides, and low blood levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) increase the risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease. Diets that are low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but high in saturated fat and excess calories increase the risk for developing these heart-related conditions. 

In addition to poor diet quality, other lifestyle factors that increase the risk for developing heart disease include smoking, carrying excess weight and large waist circumference, and physical inactivity.

Healthy lifestyle choices play an important role in heart health. It is important to eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight to promote cardiovascular health. 

Many nutrition and heart health experts say that the Mediterranean diet is a healthy, sustainable way to support cardiovascular health. In fact, the Mediterranean Diet has been named the “Best Overall Diet” and tied for first place in “Best Heart-Health Diets” by US News & World Report.” 

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is a term used to describe the traditional eating habits in countries along the Mediterranean Sea. Although there are many different countries and ethnicities in this region, they all share common characteristics in their eating patterns. These common eating patterns make up what is now referred to as the Mediterranean diet. 

A Mediterranean diet typically includes:

  • plenty of fruits, vegetables, bread and other grains, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds;
  • olive oil as a primary fat source; and
  • dairy products, eggs, fish and poultry in low to moderate amounts.

Fish and poultry are more common sources of protein in this diet than red meat. Red meat and full-fat dairy products are higher in saturated fat and are not typically included in this eating pattern. The Mediterranean diet plan also focuses on minimally processed, plant-based foods. Wine can be enjoyed in a low to moderate amount, usually accompanying meals. Fruit is frequently enjoyed for dessert in place of sweets.   

Is the Mediterranean Diet Good for Heart Health?

The Mediterranean diet is considered to be one the healthiest eating patterns by many dietitians and physicians. Clinical research supports the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet in promoting heart-health. 

To promote cardiovascular health and prevent heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends a diet that is:

  • high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes
  • includes low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts
  • limits added sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats.

The Mediterranean diet meets all of the American Heart Association’s recommendations for a heart-healthy diet. This style of eating can play a significant role in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. Following the Mediterranean diet can also reduce risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Can the Mediterranean Diet Reverse Cardiovascular Disease?

The Mediterranean diet is not just for those who wish to prevent heart disease. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats can help improve the quality of life in those who already have cardiovascular disease. 

After a heart attack or being diagnosed with heart disease, along with pharmaceutical therapies, your doctor will most likely want you to follow a healthier diet, increase your physical activity, and possibly lose weight. These steps can prevent a second heart attack or stroke, stall the worsening of heart disease, and prevent early death. The number one cause of death in individuals who survive a first heart attack is a second heart attack. 

Following the Mediterranean diet can help lower your cholesterol, improve your cardiovascular health, and help you lose weight.

Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss

There are many diets that can help you lose weight, but the most important thing when choosing an approach to weight loss is sustainability. Heavily restrictive diets are difficult to adhere to and often lead to binging. This restrict-binge cycle isn’t sustainable, it’s not good for your health, and it won’t help you lose weight. 

When starting a weight loss journey, it is important to choose an eating pattern you can stick to in the long-run, and one that is also good for your health. This will not only ensure that you are successful in reaching your weight loss goal, but it will help you maintain the weight loss. 

The Mediterranean diet meal plan is a delicious, clinically-proven, and sustainable eating pattern that can help you lose weight and keep it off. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a Mediterranean diet can help improve your heart health.


Making Time for Healthy Meals

If you’re convinced you should be following the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health but aren’t sure how you’d find the time to do it, Mediterranean meal delivery might be an option worth considering. 

A common challenge to eating healthy is lack of time or a busy schedule. Busy schedules often get in the way of doing the things necessary to take care of our health. If you don’t have time to grocery shop, chances are you won’t have time to cook either. This often leads to ordering takeout and drive-thrus for convenience. Most foods that can be ordered in a drive-thru are not going to improve your heart health. In fact, there’s a good chance those foods are doing the exact opposite for your health. 

The Mediterranean diet and heart health go hand in hand. Evidence shows that consuming a poor-quality diet and being physically inactive increase the risk of heart disease. Improving the quality of your diet does not have to be boring or impossible. A Mediterranean diet meal delivery service can make heart-healthy eating delicious, quick, and easy.

A Mediterranean diet meal delivery service like ModifyHealth can make heart-healthy eating delicious, quick, and easy. Their team of dietitians can also assist you with getting on the right track and staying there. 

To learn more about making the Mediterranean diet easy with home-delivered meals, visit www.modifyhealth.com.


Kristen Carli, RD – Camelback Nutrition & Wellness (AZ) 

Cancer/Oncology Nutrition, Culinary Nutrition (whole foods, recipes, etc.), Diabetes, Type 1, Diabetes, Type 2 and insulin resistance, Heart Health/Cardiovascular, Integrative & Functional Nutrition, Maternal Nutrition and/or Lactation, Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT), Vegetarian Nutrition, Weight Management