The Mediterranean Diet: the Diet for a Healthy Heart

By Nelly Kazzaz, M.D.

The Mediterranean diet is rated by U.S. News as a Best Diets of 2022 for many reasons.

It is healthy, easy to follow and, more importantly, it is ideal for cardiovascular health. Low in saturated fats like red meat and dairy products, it is rich in monounsaturated fats like olive oil which are believed to be anti-inflammatory properties.

The Mediterranean diet is also rich in minimally processed foods with plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, tree nuts and whole grains.

Eating healthier and smarter is traditionally considered a main predictor of cardiovascular health. Most diets work, meaning they can accomplish short-term goals of weight loss and control.

But those results are also usually short-lived and not necessarily heart-healthy.

Alternatively, the Mediterranean diet has been repeatedly recognized as the best diet for its nutritional values, its flexibility, its ease to follow and maintain over time and, most importantly, its evidence-based health benefits.

Comprehensive and international research has directly linked the Mediterranean diet to better heart health, a lower risk of diabetes, less inflammation, and even a possibly lower risk of age-related cognitive decline.

Simply put, it can help us achieve longer and healthier life.

I encourage all of you to try a little olive oil on your bread instead of butter; grab a handful of unsalted nuts to snack on instead of a bag of chips. Next time you’re shopping, try a new whole grain bread or pasta, or even couscous. Try a new recipe with legumes like chickpeas or lentils. Buy a little less red meat and a little more fish. Your heart deserves it and your life is worth it. As a heart doctor, I do what I preach, but I also know that sometimes life gets in the way. Give yourself some grace, and just do the best you can as often as you can, even if it’s just a little at a time.

As a cardiologist, I am passionate about the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, and have an ethical duty toward my patients to both help them identify their risks for cardiovascular disease and to help modify them. I dream of the day when patients confront their fears, know their numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol levels, waistline, and blood sugar) and actively seek advice to reduce their risks by lifestyle modification and, when necessary, medications.

I’m frequently asked about who should see a cardiologist and when. If you are having symptoms of cardiac issues, the answer is obvious— as soon as possible. For patients living with risk factors for heart diseases such as — but not limited to — age, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol smoking, weight issues or family history of heart disease, I recommend routine visits with a cardiologist for aggressive preventive measures. If you are experiencing any symptoms of a heart problems, do not ignore it or try to self-diagnose. Call your doctor or 9-1-1 if the symptoms are acute or resemble a heart attack.

I implore you to prioritize your own physical and mental health, to know your numbers, to eat healthy, stay active, get some sleep, stay mindful of stress relief practices, and see your doctor with the focus on prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Nelly Kazzaz is a cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Health.
Nelly Kazzaz is a cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Health.