High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol: Can the Mediterranean Diet Help?

We recently had a client reach out with the following concern: 

"I'm about to turn 60. My doctor diagnosed me with high cholesterol and high blood pressure and prediabetic. I'm not on any medication right now; she said as long as I change my diet and exercise, I could be OK. She told me the best thing for me to do is go on a whole food plant diet. Can you help me" 

It's a concern we hear very frequently, and we have amazing news!

Absolutely, we can help!

In this article, we will cover everything about the Mediterranean Diet & Heart Health: 
  • Specific heart health indicators and the research behind them
    • Including: managing high cholesterol, regulating high blood pressure, & addressing prediabetes 
  • Specific ways to implement the Mediterranean Diet to help protect your heart
    • Including: healthy fats, plants, lean proteins, exercise, and more
  • A recap of what the research says  


The Mediterranean diet is an excellent choice for addressing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and prediabetes. It aligns perfectly with this doctor's advice on adopting a whole food, plant-based approach.

The Mediterranean Diet is a whole food, plant-based diet! It emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, while minimizing processed foods and saturated fats. The abundance of fiber, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats in the Mediterranean diet can contribute to lowering cholesterol, regulating blood pressure, and managing blood sugar levels.

Finding a healthy diet is only the first step however. People will need to be able to stick to a new way of eating, in order to gain any benefits! The great news is that the variety of delicious, satisfying, and flexible options you will find on the Mediterranean Diet makes it easy to stick to a healthy eating plan.    

Overall, embracing the Mediterranean diet could be a flavorful and effective step towards improving your heart health and well-being. 

(Please note: Always consult with your healthcare provider for personalized guidance-- and NEVER stop medication without consulting your health care provider, regardless of what you read on the internet. This blog post is intended to provide information and should not be considered medical advice.)  

Specific Heart Health Indicators:

 1. Managing High Cholesterol:

High cholesterol, particularly elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. The Mediterranean diet's composition, rich in heart-healthy fats and antioxidants, has been shown to positively influence cholesterol levels.

One pivotal study supporting the cholesterol-lowering benefits of the Mediterranean diet is the PREDIMED trial (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea). 

This randomized, controlled clinical trial involved over 7,000 participants at high risk for cardiovascular disease. The participants were divided into three groups: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, and a control group following a low-fat diet.

The results were striking. Both groups adhering to the Mediterranean diet experienced a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol levels compared to the control group.

The monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, played a crucial role in this effect. Good quality Olive oil has been shown to improve the balance of cholesterol levels, lowering LDL cholesterol while preserving levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, often referred to as "good" cholesterol.

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet's incorporation of omega-3 fatty acids from fish contributes to the overall improvement in lipid profiles.

Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce triglyceride levels, further supporting cardiovascular health. The combination of these heart-healthy fats, along with the diet's focus on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, creates a powerful synergy that can effectively manage high cholesterol levels. (If you don't eat or can't eat fish, check out this blog post on what to eat instead!) 

2. Regulating High Blood Pressure:

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a prevalent risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. The Mediterranean diet's impact on blood pressure has been explored in various studies, with results consistently indicating a positive association.

The PREDIMED study, in addition to its findings on cholesterol levels, demonstrated a significant reduction in blood pressure among participants adhering to the Mediterranean diet. This effect is attributed to several key components of the diet.

Firstly, the high intake of fruits and vegetables provides an abundance of potassium, a mineral that helps counteract the effects of sodium on blood pressure.

Additionally, the diet's emphasis on whole grains contributes to fiber intake, which has been linked to lower blood pressure levels.

The inclusion of olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fats, also plays a role in promoting healthy blood vessels and reducing inflammation, further supporting blood pressure regulation.

The Lyon Diet Heart Study, conducted in 1994 and published in The Lancet, is another influential research endeavor that investigated the impact of a Mediterranean-style diet on blood pressure.

The study found that individuals following such a diet experienced not only a decrease in blood pressure but also a lower recurrence of cardiovascular events. This underscores the long-term cardiovascular benefits of adopting a Mediterranean dietary pattern.

Moreover, the Mediterranean diet's moderate consumption of red wine, particularly during meals, has been associated with improved blood pressure regulation. Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in red wine, has been linked to vasodilation and improved endothelial function, contributing to overall cardiovascular health.

3. Addressing Prediabetes:

Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle interventions, including dietary changes, play a crucial role in preventing the progression from prediabetes to diabetes.

The Mediterranean diet has demonstrated promising results in managing prediabetes by influencing factors such as insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the impact of the Mediterranean diet on insulin sensitivity. The results indicated that adherence to this dietary pattern was associated with improved insulin sensitivity, a key factor in preventing the development of diabetes.

The diet's emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods with a low glycemic index contributes to better blood sugar control.

Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, provide a steady release of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. The inclusion of legumes, fruits, and vegetables further supports stable blood sugar regulation. (Read more about whole grains.

Moreover, the Mediterranean diet's rich array of antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, herbs, and olive oil may mitigate inflammation, a factor linked to insulin resistance and the progression of prediabetes.

By reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, the diet creates a favorable environment for improved metabolic function.

In a nutshell, the Mediterranean diet is your all-in-one ticket to a healthier heart.

Packed with heart-healthy fats, fiber-rich foods, and an army of antioxidants, it's a culinary adventure that science can stand behind. 

How to Implement the Mediterranean Diet to protect your Heart: 

We recommend that you focus on several specific principles of the Mediterranean Diet. 

1. Abundance of Healthy Fats:

Olive Oil: Make a good quality olive oil the primary (or only) oil you use! Replace other oils in salad dressings, marinades, and cooking. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are associated with lower levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol, and help maintain or increase HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol. This is our favorite olive oil; you can also find it on Amazon

Nuts and Seeds: Eat almonds, walnuts, and flaxseeds for snacks. You can also include them alongside meals, top salads or oatmeal with them, or use almond butter in place of peanut butter. These fats contribute to improved cholesterol levels and support overall heart health. (Learn more about nuts here.) 

Fatty Fish: Aim to eat fish and other seafood 2 to 3 times per week. (See this article on fish.) Regular consumption of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines provides omega-3 fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties and cardiovascular benefits. Omega-3s can help reduce triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and support heart function.

2. Emphasis on Plant-Based Foods:

Fruits and Vegetables: Make these the base of every meal and snack! Most of us don't eat enough. The vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants in produce contribute to lower blood pressure, improved blood vessel function, and reduced inflammation.

Whole Grains: Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta offer complex carbohydrates, fiber, and various nutrients. Whole grains should be a big part of your diet. Fiber aids in controlling blood sugar levels, managing weight, and promoting heart health by lowering cholesterol. (Read more about whole grains and pasta.) 

3. Lean Proteins:

Fish and Poultry: Lean protein sources such as fish, poultry, and plant-based proteins like beans are preferred over red meat in the Mediterranean diet. Fish, in particular, provides high-quality protein along with heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids. (More on fish here.) 

Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent plant-based protein sources that also contain fiber, antioxidants, and other heart-healthy nutrients. Their inclusion contributes to overall cardiovascular well-being. Aim to eat legumes several times per week or even every day. 

4. Moderate Dairy and Red Wine Consumption:

Dairy: The Mediterranean diet includes low to moderate amounts of dairy, with an emphasis on low-fat options like yogurt and cheese. These provide calcium, vitamin D, and protein without excess saturated fat.

Red Wine: In moderation, red wine is considered part of the Mediterranean diet, and it contains resveratrol, a polyphenol that may have cardiovascular benefits. However, it's essential to consume alcohol responsibly and be mindful of individual health conditions. One glass per day for women and up to two glasses per day for men is the general guideline for people who drink. 

5. Minimization of Processed Foods:

Limited Processed Foods: The Mediterranean diet suggests minimizing the intake of processed foods and artificial ingredients. Try easy swaps, like switching your store-bought granola bar for nuts & fruit or making your own soup instead buying it in a can. Learn more about what to limit on a Mediterranean Diet. 

6. Regular Physical Activity:

While not a specific food item, the Mediterranean lifestyle emphasizes regular physical activity. Exercise contributes to weight management, improved cardiovascular function, and overall heart health. Walking counts! 

7. Social and Culinary Enjoyment:

The Mediterranean diet isn't just about what you eat; it's about how you eat. Sharing meals with family and friends, savoring the flavors, and taking time for leisurely meals contribute to reduced stress, which is beneficial for heart health.

 Want to learn more about how to implement the Mediterranean Diet to best focus on your heart health? Check out this article from Veronica Rouse, The Heart Dietitian

Recap of what the Research Says? 

As we discussed, numerous studies have supported the positive effects of the Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular health, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar regulation. Let's review a few key findings. 

Cardiovascular Health:

The PREDIMED study (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) showed that individuals following a Mediterranean diet full of extra-virgin olive oil or mixed nuts had a lower risk of cardiovascular events compared to a control group. This reduction was observed over a period of five years.

Cholesterol Levels:

A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant reduction in total cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol levels (often referred to as "bad" cholesterol), and triglycerides.

Blood Pressure:

In the Lyon Diet Heart Study, participants with a history of heart disease who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in certain plant-based foods, experienced a significant reduction in blood pressure compared to the control group. The Mediterranean diet group also showed a lower recurrence of cardiovascular events.

Blood Sugar Regulation:

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that the Mediterranean diet may improve insulin sensitivity and help manage blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for individuals with prediabetes.


Our Preferred Olive Oil 

 good quality olive oilWorld's Best Olive Oil!

Olive oil is a significant part of the Mediterranean Diet & as shown in several of the studies above, it plays an important role in the fight against high blood pressure and cholesterol. 

Good quality Olive Oil makes all the difference. Did you know that poor quality Olive Oil not only affects the taste and flavor of your food negatively, it can more easily be rancid or oxidized, which means you don't reap any of the health benefits. 

Check out the worlds best Olive Oil from our partners at Laconiko. You can also find them on Amazon


Please note, this article includes affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for supporting our partners so we can continue to bring great, free content to you!

Leave a comment