The Delicious Way to Heart Health

How to eat good food, drink a little wine and benefit both mind and body.

Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet, and the lifestyle that goes with it, have been keeping people happy and healthy for centuries. Can it work for you? Elie Chakhtoura, MD, Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Clara Maass Medical Center and a member of Barnabas Health Medical Group, says it can. Here, he explains how:

What are the origins of the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is the universal name of the traditional dietary patterns of the people living in 22 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The sea touches three continents—Asia in the east, Europe in the north and west, and Africa in the south. Therefore, the Mediterranean diet is the byproduct of centuries of environmental and socioeconomic interactions.

It’s important to note that the Mediterranean diet is both a dietary and lifestyle model, combining the consumption of healthy food with behavioral patterns that lead to physical and emotional well-being. Meals are shared with family and friends in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere. A physically active lifestyle is also a main component of this way of living that leads to major health benefits.

What are the major elements of the Mediterranean diet?

The diet typically consists of:

  • Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and healthy fats (mainly olive oil).
  • Moderate amounts of fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products.
  • Limited amounts of red meat.
  • Low to moderate wine consumption.

Why the interest in the Mediterranean diet?

The model of the Mediterranean diet dates back to the Seven Countries Study, conceived by American physiologist Ancel Keys. This research, which began in the 1950s and continued for decades, revealed the first relationship between the traditional diet of this region and lower cardiovascular mortality. The diet first became widely embraced in the U.S. in the 1990s and continues to be popular.

The main components of the diet include soluble fiber, high omega-3 content in fish, monounsaturated fats, antioxidants and other bioactive substances from olive oil (preferably virgin olive oil). These contribute to significant protective health benefits that go beyond stroke and cardiovascular disease to include cancer, dementia and Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

How can I incorporate the Mediterranean diet into my lifestyle?

  • Increase your vegetable and legume (beans, peas and seeds) intake on a daily basis.
  • Eat fruits, whole grains and other fiber-rich foods for breakfast.
  • Eat fish two to three times a week.
  • Consume dairy products in moderation.
  • Limit saturated fat and meat intake.
  • Incorporate olive oil and nuts in your diet.
  • Exercise and stay active every day.
  • Enjoy your meals in a relaxed, interactive social context.

While the Mediterranean diet is very beneficial, it needs to be tweaked to get it closer to current healthy diet standards.

Portion control and calorie restriction should modulate certain aspects of this diet, including bread and whole grain intake. Wine consumption should be limited to one glass a day, as larger amounts may lead to worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes.

Finally, the importance of an active lifestyle cannot be overemphasized. All components of the Mediterranean diet concept come together in concert to help you achieve the required targets.

Your heart doesn’t beat just for you. Get it checked. To reach a Clara Maass Medical Center cardiac expert click here or call 888.724.7123.

Dinner Tonight: A Mediterranean Feast 

Greek Chicken, Potatoes and Spinach Dip

“The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, fatty fish, lean poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation, and sweets and red meat for special occasions. This makes it easier and more realistic to follow than other trending diets,” says Elizabeth Hanna, Clinical Nutrition Manager at Clara Maass Medical Center (CMMC). Ready to get started? Hanna suggests the healthful, tasty and easy-to-prepare dishes below. Serve these nutritious foods over a bed of sliced fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, with a side of grilled pita. To learn more about healthy eating, contact a CMMC Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at 973.450.2328.

Lemon Oregano Chicken Breast


  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3/8 teaspoon oregano leaves, fresh, chopped
  • 3/8 teaspoon whole clove peeled garlic, fresh, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 4-ounce boneless chicken breast


  • Combine lemon juice, oregano, garlic, salt and oil for marinade.
  • Add chicken to marinade. Toss until evenly coated. Refrigerate for 6 hours.
  • Drain and discard marinade. Place marinated breast on medium-high heat grill for 4½ to 5½ minutes on each side.

Herbed Red Potatoes


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh dill weed, chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Dash ground black pepper
  • 5 ounces small red potatoes


  • Combine oil, dill, salt and pepper for dressing.
  • Boil potatoes for 15 to 20 minutes or until slightly tender.
  • Cut potatoes in half. Add to dressing and toss until evenly coated.
  • Place on hot grill. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Garlic And Spinach Dip


  • 1/4 cup plus 11/2 teaspoons baby spinach, sliced in thin strips
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole clove peeled garlic fresh, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 3 tablespoons nonfat plain Greek yogurt


  • In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients until well blended.