The Mediterranean Diet: Good for your Heart
If you are a chronic kidney disease (CKD) or dialysis patient, the term “diet” probably makes you cringe! PLEASE, don’t stop reading yet!
I want to tell you about a diet that may have some good options for you. It’s the Mediterranean Diet–not really a diet. It is more of a “way of life” and it is gaining a lot of positive recognition. This lifestyle-diet was recently ranked one of the highest by U.S. News and World Reports (1), in the “Best Overall Diet” and the “Easiest to Follow” categories.
A lot of the diets that you hear or read about do not have ANY scientific research to support their claims of promoting improved health (or weight loss). They are just fads that don’t provide long term results or benefits. However, that is not the case with the Mediterranean Diet.
Mediterranean Diet Studies
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (2) found that adopting the Mediterranean diet with additional supplementation of extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the risk of heart disease, stroke and death from heart disease by 30% when compared to more traditional diets. The belief is that the replacement of saturated fats and trans-fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may decrease unhealthy cholesterol levels, also known as low density lipoproteins (LDLs). There are additional studies that show the increase in polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats helps reduce cardiovascular disease risk by reducing the “bad” cholesterol (3, 4).
In addition, scientific evidence (5, 6, 7) demonstrates that following this diet plan can help manage weight, reduce risk of cancer, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. These are diseases that often affect individuals with CKD or on dialysis.
For more information on the Mediterranean Diet, please read my blog post from May 10, 2017 “Going Mediterranean on Your Kidney Diet”.
Tips for Eating the Mediterranean Way
- Reduce or eliminate processed foods. As an example, real potatoes are healthy. Potato flakes, French fries and potato chips are very processed and not so healthy. As a general rule, the less processed the healthier. If you are limiting potassium you can double-boil fresh potatoes to reduce the amount of potassium. Watch this video to see how.
- Eat foods in their natural form. Fresh fruits and vegetables retain more of their vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber compared to foods that are canned, blended or over-cooked. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also a great option since the nutrients are retained with this preserving method. In addition, steaming instead of boiling vegetables is another way to retain more nutrients during cooking.
- Limit unhealthy fats, but enjoy the “good” ones. For example, extra-virgin olive oil is the primary fat on the Mediterranean Diet. It can be used for cooking or as a side or condiment. It’s easy to make your own salad dressing with olive oil. Try DaVita’s Italian Dressing recipe. Other healthy fats include avocado, nuts and seeds. Check with your dietitian to see how much and how often you can safely include these higher potassium and phosphorus fats.
- Make a goal of eating 5-6 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day, or the amount recommended by your dietitian in your kidney diet eating plan.
- Eliminate processed grains but feel free to eat whole grain breads or pastas at most meals. Whole grains are very healthy and provide much needed vitamins, minerals and fiber. These are no longer on the “avoid’ list on today’s kidney diet.
- Legumes (dried or canned beans, lentils, etc.) are a staple and may be included daily. Check with your dietitian for the amount and how often. Not a bean lover? Think about making some hummus to enjoy as a snack with carrot and celery sticks or make Hummus and Red Pepper Celery Logs for a snack.
- Decrease the amount of red meat and processed meats, like bacon, sausage, lunch meat.
- Eat fish, chicken and eggs in moderation. Prepare foods by baking, grilling or roasting to help retain flavor and nutrients without adding extra calories.
- Dessert on the Mediterranean Diet is usually a serving of fruit with some yogurt and honey. Try to limit or avoid sugary desserts.
Mediterranean Diet for Life
One of the many benefits of the Mediterranean Diet is it allows you to choose from a large variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. With a few adjustments, the kidney diet principles combined with the Mediterranean Diet is one way to focus on healthier eating. There are general guidelines to follow, but it is not too restrictive. For that reason many people find they can follow a Mediterranean diet long-term. As always, work with your renal dietitian to ensure you are eating the right kind of foods to stay healthy based on your individual needs.
Explore more with “7 Heart Healthy Mediterranean Dishes.”
- Best Diets for 2018: Mediterranean and DASH Diets Top List | Time time.com/5085711/best-diets-for-2018/
- New England Journal of Medicine. Feb 2013: 368:1279-1290.
- Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010; 91 (3):502-509. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26285.
- Wijendran V., Hayes KC. Dietary n-6 and n-3 fatty acid balance and cardi0vascular health, Annual Review of Nutrition, Vol. 24:597-615 (Volume publication date 14 July 2004), https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.nutr.24.012003.132106
- Diabetes Care. 2011 Jan; 34 (1) 14-9.
- BMC Medicine. 2013 Jul 16 11:164.
- New England Journal of Medicine. 2008; 359: 229-241.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Consult your physician and dietitian regarding your specific diagnosis, treatment, diet and health questions.