Harvard Heart Letter

Mediterranean and Portfolio diets

If you need to lower your cholesterol and want to try changing your diet first, your best bets are a Mediterranean-type diet or the so-called portfolio diet. In a head-to-head trial, a standard low-fat diet had little effect on cholesterol.

Mediterranean-type diets

There's no such thing as "the" Mediterranean diet. You may already be following one and not know it (see "Mediterranean quiz"). Here are the general characteristics:

  • Four or more servings of vegetables a day. A serving is 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy greens, or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice.

  • Four or more servings of fruit a day. A serving is 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, 1/2 cup of dried fruit, one medium-sized piece of fruit, or 1/2 cup of fruit juice.

  • Six or more servings of grain — mostly whole grain — a day. A serving is 1 cup of dry breakfast cereal; 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta; or one slice of bread.

  • Two or more servings of fish a week. A serving is 4 ounces.

  • One serving of yogurt or cheese a day.

  • One serving of beans or nuts a day. For cooked beans, 1/2 cup is a serving; for nuts it's a handful (about 1.75 ounces).

  • If you enjoy alcohol, limit yourself to one (for women) or two (for men) drinks a day. One drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1 1/2 ounces of liquor.

Mediterranean quiz

How "Mediterranean" is your diet? Here is how National Institutes of Health and AARP researchers classified diets. Give yourself one point for each "Yes." If you score 6 or higher, you're eating like you live in Athens, and we don't mean Athens, Georgia.



Vegetables (other than potatoes), 4 or more servings a day

Fruits, 4 or more servings a day

Whole grains, 2 or more servings a day

Beans (legumes), 2 or more servings a week

Nuts, 2 or more servings a week

Fish, 2 or more servings a week

Red and processed meat, 1 or fewer servings a day

Dairy foods, 1 or fewer servings a day

More unsaturated fat (olive oil and other liquid vegetable oils) than saturated fat (butter, palm oil, bacon fat, etc.)

Alcohol, 1/2 to 1 drink a day for women, 1 to 2 for men

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