Consider the Mediterranean Diet in the New Year

American Heart Association

The Mediterranean diet has been chewed over in public for a generation now. It’s been extensively researched and attempted by millions of people who don’t live anywhere near the Mediterranean Sea.

This eating style, rooted in the cultures of countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, emphasizes fresh produce, healthy fats and fish. It’s been credited with lowering risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attack.

Research indicates the benefits spring, in part, from how the diet relates to cholesterol in the bloodstream, lowering “bad” cholesterol and either not affecting or increasing “good” cholesterol.

Amanda Gustafson, inpatient clinical dietitian at Glens Falls Hospital, is a fan because, she says, the Mediterranean diet lends itself to “intuitive eating.” Her patients grasp the concept and can go with it. Most importantly, “it does not require any strict tracking,” which means people are more likely to continue this healthy eating pattern, she said.

Flexibility is one aspect of the Mediterranean diet that Gustafson appreciates. After all, issues of access—to fresh produce or seafood because of availability or cost—and matters of taste can derail the best intentions.

“I urge people to shop local, shop in season, and to shop sales,” she said.

Gustafson noted some cost-saving substitutions: natural peanut butter in place of whole nuts, frozen fruits and vegetables instead of fresh when out of season and light tuna in water, not
oil, in place of salmon.

The American Heart Association supports both Mediterranean-style eating and DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, which have many similar components. And Gustafson noted another choice, the MIND diet, that’s been getting attention. It takes elements from the Mediterranean diet and DASH to focus on improving brain health.

Gustafson sees value in “making small changes over time as these changes can have a big impact on your health."