Can The Mediterranean Diet Lower Your Cholesterol?

Selection of Mediterranean style dishes
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The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of food consumption present in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, especially southern Italy and Greece. This diet emphasizes the consumption of lean meats, healthy fats, red wine, whole grains, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Early studies revealed that individuals living in countries around the Mediterranean Sea had a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease in comparison to other populations outside of this region.

 Additionally, individuals consuming this diet have been shown to have lower rates of cancer and other chronic diseases. It also appears that the Mediterranean diet may lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a balanced diet containing a variety of foods and can be easily followed. Key characteristics of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Foods high in monounsaturated fats – including nuts, seeds, and olive oil
  • Low to moderate consumption of red wine
  • Foods high in legumes, including lentils and beans
  • High-fiber grains, including whole grain, oatmeal, and barley
  • Use of leans cuts of poultry in some foods
  • Moderate consumption of fish – including fish high in healthy omega-3 fats, such as salmon and anchovy
  • Refined sugars are used sparingly in meals
  • Lower consumption of red meat
  • Meals high in fresh fruits and vegetable content
  • Low to moderate use of dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and certain cheeses, such as parmesan and feta cheeses

    Can The Mediterranean Diet Lower Cholesterol?

    There have been multiple studies that have examined the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet in lowering cholesterol and triglycerides -  and these results appear promising. Healthy participants, individuals with high lipid levels, or individuals with other medical conditions participated in these studies, lasting from anywhere between 4 weeks and 4 years.

    Most of these studies have focused on certain aspects of the Mediterranean diet, such as the consumption of fruits and veggies, using high amounts of virgin olive oil (up to one liter per week), or eating nuts (up to 30 grams a day, or two handfuls). From these studies, it can be concluded that, for the most part, the Mediterranean diet can modestly lower lipid levels. In these studies, LDL was lowered by an average of 10%, whereas HDL  levels were increased by up to about 5%. Triglycerides and total cholesterol also appeared to be slightly decreased in some studies. Oxidation of LDL, which can promote the formation of atherosclerosis, was also reduced in some studies. A few studies did not show a significant effect on lipid levels in those following the Mediterranean diet.

    Additionally, some of these studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet may be superior to a regular, low-fat diet. In one study it appeared that cholesterol was lowered significantly more than following a low-fat diet.

    Studies have also noted those following a Mediterranean diet have a lowered risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

    The Bottom Line

    Many of these studies included participants with different health conditions and emphasized different aspects of the Mediterranean diet – so, more studies would be needed to examine the beneficial effects the Mediterranean diet has on lipid levels. However, the studies that have been conducted so far appear to conclude that following a Mediterranean diet may have a positive impact on your heart health.

    In addition to lowering lipids, Mediterranean diet also appears to be beneficial for overall health, too. For instance, this diet has also been studied for its ability to lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose, and incidence of asthma.

    At a closer glance, the Mediterranean diet closely mirrors the essentials of a lipid-lowering diet. So, if you are looking for a diet to lower your lipids, the Mediterranean diet may be a good option for you. This diet plan includes cholesterol-friendly ingredients such as:

    • High consumption of fiber from whole grains, produce, and nuts
    • Consumption of phytosterol-rich foods, including nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit.
    • High consumption of unsaturated fats (the “good” fats) that are found in nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil.

    However, just as with any healthy diet, moderation is important. Although this diet contains a lot of healthy foods, some of these foods - such as those high in unsaturated fat, - are calorically dense and may cause weight gain if too much is consumed in your daily meals.


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