If you are looking to improve your overall health, following the Mediterranean diet may be of benefit to you. This diet blends the basics of healthy eating with the traditional food items and cooking methods of the Mediterranean; Following the Mediterranean diet can play a big role in preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The Mediterranean diet came to surface in the 1960s when people started noticing that coronary heart disease caused less deaths in Mediterranean Countries than in the U.S. and northern Europe. Later, studies found that the Mediterranean diet was associated with reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Research has consistently shown that the Mediterranean diet is effective in lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating plan recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to promote health and prevent chronic disease. The Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil. These foods are labeled “nutritious” because they are high in fiber and contain healthy fats.

The Mediterranean diet mainly consists of:

• Daily intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats

• Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs

• Moderate intake of dairy products

• Limited intake of red meat

The most important thing, when it comes to what you eat, is to focus on the overall quality of your diet, rather than single foods. Try to include more nutrient dense foods, while limiting foods that contain a lot of calories but off little nutritional value.

Interested in trying the Mediterranean diet? These pointers will get you started:

• Eat more fruits and vegetables: 7 to 10 servings a day.

• Choose whole grains: Switch to whole grain bread, cereal and pasta.

• Use healthy fats: Replace butter with olive oil when cooking.

• Eat more seafood: Eat fish twice a week.

• Reduce intake of red meat: Replace with fish, poultry or beans. If you find reducing intake of red meat difficult, make sure it is lean and keep portions small.

• Enjoy moderate amounts of dairy

• Spice it up: Herbs and spices enhance flavor and lessens the need for salt.

Julia Greenwood is a dietician.