Why This Plant-Based Diet is a Winner

Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report issued its annual rankings of the best diets. This year’s winner: the Mediterranean diet, a plant-based diet shown to help prevent diabetes and protect the heart.

“The Mediterranean diet is a very healthy eating style that has been shown to improve cardiovascular risk factors—even for patients who already have heart disorders,” says Murray Mittleman, MD, DrPH, Director of Cardiovascular Epidemiological Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

A new study in the medical journal Lancet examined people’s eating habits across 195 countries and estimated how much diets contribute to cardiovascular disease and mortality. The study found that countries where people eat a Mediterranean diet scored the best for their health.

What Makes This Diet Stand Out?

The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle offer subtle differences that may reduce the risk of heart disease, while also making it easier to stick to healthy eating habits.

According to the American Heart Association, traditional Mediterranean diets focus on the following:

  • Consistently using olive oil instead of saturated fats such as butter, lard and cottonseed, palm and coconut oils
  • Eating only small to moderate amounts of dairy products, eggs, fish and poultry
  • Eating very little red meat
  • Drinking wine in low-to-moderate amounts
  • Eating primarily beans, nuts and grains, as well as fruits and vegetables

“The Mediterranean diet also emphasizes people eat a very low intake of refined carbohydrates and very little processed food,” adds Mittleman. “This is an important distinction because reducing these two food categories is also an important way to lower fat and salt intake.”

In addition, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes smaller portion sizes.

“The Mediterranean diet is very sustainable and livable,” says Mittleman. “There’s a lot of variety and it’s easy to maintain. The diet’s heart-healthy benefits will pay you back for a lifetime."

Make the Mediterranean Diet Part of Your Routine

Get started with these recipes, developed by Liz Moore, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and author of the CardioVascular Institute’s Hungry Heart Cookbook.

Bulgur & Lentil Salad

Serves 6


1 cup brown lentils
1 1/2 cups medium grained bulgur
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, sliced thin
3 tsp dried rosemary
Pepper to taste


Pour lentils into a pan and fill with water about an inch higher than the lentils. Bring water to a boil and simmer lentils about 15 to 20 minutes until tender. Drain water and set aside.

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, add bulgur and reduce heat. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Drain if necessary.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion, celery and rosemary until tender. Add the lentils and bulgur to this mixture and stir well. Serve hot or cold.

Nutrition Facts: Total calories per serving: 209; total fat: 4.5g; saturated fat: 0.5g; cholesterol: 0mg; sodium: 10mg; total carbohydrate: 36g; total fiber: 10g; sugars: 1g; protein: 8g

Mediterranean Salmon with Tomatoes & Capers

Serves 4


1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh basil
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
4 salmon fillets, about 3 oz. each
2 tomatoes, diced
2 Tbsp capers, drained and rinsed


Preheat broiler. Mix tomato and capers in bowl and set aside.

Mix olive oil, garlic, basil and rosemary in a bowl. Coat each fillet of salmon in this mixture and then place in baking dish.

Broil salmon for about 7 minutes on one side, then turn. Top with tomato and caper mixture and return to broiler for another 7 minutes or until fish is easily flaked with a fork.

Nutrition Facts: Total calories per serving: 240; total fat: 15g; saturated fat: 2.5g; cholesterol: 70mg; sodium: 200mg; total carbohydrates: 3g; fiber: 2g; sugars: 0g; protein: 20g

Journal Link: Lancet