A Mediterranean style diet consists of eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, whole grains, and even red wine (in moderation!). Red meat is limited to once or twice a month. You won't find salmon in the Mediterranean Sea, but salmon does contain a high concentration of heart healthy fats emphasized in the Mediterranean diet. The benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet include lower rates of heart disease, and the diet is similar to the recommendations made by the American Heart Association.
What are “Healthy Fats”?
You may find it hard to believe that fat is good for you, but in fact it is essential. Unsaturated fats are usually considered "healthy fats," and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are especially good. Omega-3s found in seafood, including salmon, have been shown to protect against heart disease and to lower blood pressure. A 3-ounce serving of salmon has about 1.5 grams of omega-3s; it would take more than 10 ounces of shrimp to obtain this same amount. You don't eat much meat on a Mediterranean diet, resulting in a low intake of the saturated fats that can contribute to heart disease. One way to tell the difference: Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.
Salmon: Go Wild
Salmon is considered a fatty fish because of its high omega-3 fatty acid content. Choose wild salmon, which researchers suspect may have more usable omega-3s than farmed salmon. The Mediterranean diet promotes fish consumption at least two times a week. Salmon also is considered to be low in mercury content, so you can relax when consuming salmon within the Mediterranean diet recommendations. The American Heart Association states that “the benefits of eating fish a few times per week far outweigh the potential risks."
Prepare and Serve
Salmon should be grilled, baked, or broiled to avoid added fat and calories. Stay away from frying, breading and creamy dressings. Try cumin, paprika, or dill for flavor. Dinner may look like this: 3 ounces -- think the size of a deck of cards -- of salmon on a bed of spinach, a side of legumes and perhaps a bit of whole grain bread; all cooked in or dressed with olive oil.
Additional Health Benefits
In addition to the heart health benefits, salmon and the Mediterranean diet may also improve brain function by reducing inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is believed to influence the development of dementia in later years. When combined with physical activity and calorie control, the Mediterranean diet may be helpful in weight loss when followed for at least six months. Consult a registered dietitian for personalized diet recommendations.
- American Heart Association: Frequently Asked Questions About “Better” Fats
- Journal of the American Heart Association: Components of a Cardioprotective Diet: New Insights
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary fats: Know Which Types to Choose
- Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders: Mediterranean Diet and Weight Loss: Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
- MyPlate: Eat Seafood Twice a Week
- University of Massachusetts Medical School: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Rachel Hurshman is a registered dietitian and has a Master of Public Health from the Colorado School of Public Health. She enjoys promoting health and wellness through writing and as the wellness specialist for a local school district.