The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most popular, well-researched diets that provides bountiful nutrition and lasting support for a happy, healthy life.
Daily energy requirements are only one of the factors we should take into consideration when planning our meals. Aside from consuming adequate “fuel” from our diets, the foods we put on our plate should reflect our health goals, including keeping our heart in good shape.
The Link Between Diet & Heart Health
It’s not just that too much junk food can cause us to gain fat, but a consistently bad diet can put pressure on our bodies abilities to function properly, with poor dietary choices routinely linked to heart complications (1).
By consuming balanced meals rich in a broad spectrum of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, you’ll be taking the necessary steps to support heart health at any age.
The Heart Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
It’s well known that 5 portions of fruit and veg a day is the standard each of us should be aiming for in our daily food intake. Full of nutrients, these natural energy sources are abundant with health benefits. Variety is also key. Selecting a range of colors ensures you’re receiving a whole host of phytochemicals that can boost and protect your health in many different ways.
Followers of a Mediterranean diet plan are well-versed in incorporating a range of colorful plant-based foods into their diets. In fact, this healthy-fat and vegetable-rich diet is associated with a lower risk of heart complications. (2)
7 Best Heart Health Promoting Mediterranean Vegetables
You’ve heard that prevention is the best medicine. And whether you’re looking to support your heart’s health today or invest in a little “nutritional insurance” for tomorrow, incorporating as many of these Mediterranean vegetables in your daily diet as possible will help cover your nutritional bases and support a healthy cardiovascular system.
Distinguished by their deep purple skins, eggplants are a common ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes. Known for their fleshy texture, research has shown them to be one of the top 10 antioxidant-dense vegetables, with their peel being the most concentrated source (3).
One such antioxidant is nasunin (4), which helps to remove excess iron from the blood (5). Nasunin, among other phytochemicals (plant-based chemical compounds) found in the vegetable, that are thought to support healthy cholesterol levels (6).
Scientists have also attributed eggplant’s flavonoids and phenolic compounds to the vegetable’s ability to promote healthy blood pressure. It’s also rich in fiber and low in fat, and studies show it may support efficient glucose metabolism (7).
Featured Recipe: Roasted Aubergine, Tomatoes & Chickpeas
2. Bell Peppers
Enjoyed raw or cooked, bell peppers are rich in vitamin B6 & folate (8). Interestingly red bell peppers are actually ripened green peppers, which gives them a sweeter taste. The bright yellow, red, and orange colors of the vegetable are nature’s way of telling us they’re naturally high in healthful carotenoids.
This antioxidant is known to not only fight free-radicals, support immune function and support the body’s inflammatory response, but diets rich in carotenoids have been linked with good cardiovascular health (9).
Bell peppers are also rich in tachykinins. This bioactive ingredient is thought to be the root of the vegetable’s vasodilatory properties. By widening the blood vessels, blood flow is improved and organ tissues receive better oxygenation and nutrient circulation (10).
Featured Recipe: Cauliflower Rice Stuffed Peppers
Popularized by low-carb diets, zucchini is packed full of heart-healthy nutrients. A great replacement for spaghetti, ‘zoodles’ make for an easy recipe swap-in to get more of this Mediterranean export in your diet.
Along with bell peppers, zucchinis are another carotenoid-rich vegetable. High in fiber, the soluble type, pectin, that is found within zucchinis could help support healthy cholesterol levels (11).
Zucchinis are also a great source of potassium. This electrolyte helps to reduce blood pressure by dilating the blood vessels and counteracting the pressure from sodium-rich foods (12). Along with the high fiber content, this green vegetable is one to incorporate regularly to support heart health and circulation (13).
Featured Recipe: Zucchini “Pasta” Caprese
While technically a fruit, not a vegetable, tomatoes are often the flavor enhancer of many savoury dishes and with a whole spectrum of heart health-promoting benefits, there’s more reason than ever to include more of this popular vegetable into your diet. Its popularity could be partly down to the abundance of varieties, with over 10,000 known types.
The most notable compound found in tomatoes is lycopene. Not only responsible for its bright red color, but lycopene has also been shown in studies to help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol (14).
Chlorogenic acid, another antioxidant found in tomatoes, has been found to support healthy blood pressure levels (15) and organic varieties, in particular, have high levels of quercetin and kaempferol, aiding in many facets of cardiovascular health (16).
Featured Recipe: Cod With Tomato Bean Stew
A versatile vegetable, it’s worth adding onions into one of your daily meals due to their heart-healthy properties. Packed with over 25 varieties of antioxidants, this bulb vegetable has been found to help reduce triglycerides, a type of fat found in blood, and may help reduce cholesterol levels (16).
Red onions are particularly beneficial for heart health due to their anthocyanin content. It’s this flavonoid that is responsible for their color. Research has discovered that diets containing anthocyanin-rich foods seem to provide heart-protective benefits (16).
Onions are also a great food choice for helping to naturally control blood sugar levels. It’s down to the allyl propyl disulfide, onion’s essential oil, that may help lower glucose levels (17), as well as quercetin, which helps regulate normal blood sugar levels through interacting with many components of the body (16).
Featured Recipe: Grilled Onion Salsa
Available to buy fresh, canned or jarred, artichokes are a versatile Meditteranean export. Dip the cooked leaves into prepared vinaigrette, use them as a healthy pizza topping or feature them in a salad. When starting with a raw artichoke time and patience are required to prepare the vegetable for consumption, but its health benefits are the reward for the effort.
Like zucchinis, artichokes are a great source of potassium, an important electrolyte mineral and important nutrient for a healthy cardiovascular system (18). Regular consumption of artichokes may help to support healthy cholesterol levels due to the presence of chemical compounds found within the vegetable (19).
The abundance of fiber found in artichokes aids in keeping blood sugar levels stable, avoiding insulin fluctuations which can signal trouble for diabetics. Jerusalem artichokes have shown particular benefits in improving insulin sensitivity for diabetics (20).
Featured Recipe: Mediterranean Roasted Artichoke
A favorite accompaniment among the health-conscious, asparagus is easy to prepare whilst adding many nutrients to a plate. Aside from the commonly seen green variety, asparagus can also be purple or white in color, with the vegetable being so celebrated that towns in the UK and US hold annual asparagus festivals in its honor
Like the other Mediterranean vegetables on this list, asparagus is also high in health-promoting antioxidants. It’s the flavonoids that this vegetable contains that are responsible for its ability to support healthy blood flow (21).
Asparagus is also considered a good source of vitamin K, a nutrient that is thought to support heart health. It’s also rich in Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, thought to support the health of our cardiovascular system (22).
Featured Recipe: Lemony Tuna & Asparagus Salad
BONUS #8: Beets
Beets were prized by the ancient Romans and Greeks because they were one of the few vegetables that were able to grow in the winter, and they’re one of nature’s most heart-healthy foods.
But the earthy taste can be hard to get around. People either love beets or they don’t. It’s a shame because beets have one of the highest levels of dietary nitrates in the plant kingdom. And the more dietary nitrates you’re able to get, the more likely you’ll be able to produce an amount of nitric oxide that can help support healthy blood pressure levels.
In addition to the earthy taste, because they’re a root vegetable, beets take in whatever is in the soil. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it’s not. What is certain is the nutritional content varies greatly from beet to beet. In some cases, the difference in dietary nitrates might be as much as 10-fold.
SuperBeets solves both issues by concentrating a consistent amount of dietary nitrates into a single, refreshing 4-ounce drink.
Heart health should be a top priority of everyone, no matter your age. The American Heart Association revealed that a shocking 48% of American adults should be “greatly concerned” about the health of their heart. As we said at the beginning of this article, prevention is the best medicine, and by prioritizing these top fresh, healthy, Mediterranean vegetables on your plate, you’re providing your body with an abundance of healthful nutrients and compounds that are widely agreed to support heart health and well-being.
Want to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet? Check out this post on how to put together an easy Mediterranean diet plan.