Foods Your Heart Will Love

By Marc Gillinov, MD, Cardiac Surgeon at Cleveland Clinic and StevenNissen, MD, Chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Dr. Gillinov and Dr. Nissen are authors of Heart 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You'll Ever Need

Posted on | By Marc Gillinov, MD , Steven Nissen, MD | Comments ()

What is special about this diet? Rich in plant-based foods, it has the best combination of nutrients, with the right fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated fats) and the right carbohydrates (high fiber, whole grain). It is low in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. Although these are the key features, many people focus on olive oil when discussing the Mediterranean diet.

The “Magic” of Olive Oil

The Mediterranean diet is not a low-fat diet. The primary source of fat, olive oil, is rich in “good” fats, particularly the monounsaturated fat, oleic acid. In some studies, olive oil has been associated with improvements in cardiac risk factors, including decreases in triglyceride levels, inflammation and blood clotting and better blood vessel function. Other research suggests that extra virgin olive oil is the best type, as it may increase HDL cholesterol. We recommend using the cold-pressed, extra-virgin variety as a dressing for salads and vegetables and as a dip for your whole-grain breads. Enjoy the taste and improve your heart health by adding olive oil to a healthy diet plan.

The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Carefully controlled scientific studies suggest that following a fruit-, vegetable- and olive-oil-based Mediterranean diet has favorable effects on cardiac risk factors. These include improved cholesterol levels, reduced blood pressure, reduced inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity, and improved blood vessel function.

Although many of these benefits have been ascribed specifically to olive oil, it is difficult to separate out the effects of individual components of the diet. You should think of the Mediterranean diet as a package deal, filled with many tasty, healthy choices.

Olive oil is best in the context of this diet, rather than as an add-on to a typical Western diet. Put another way, dressing a dinner salad with extra-virgin olive oil does not “erase” a main course that includes an 18-ounce rib eye steak smothered in blue cheese.

Article written by Marc Gillinov, MD
Cardiac Surgeon at Cleveland Clinic

Article written by Steven Nissen, MD
Chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic