Intermittent Fasting On A Pesco-Mediterranean Diet Supports The Heart

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Pesco-Mediterranean Diet & Intermittent Fasting Support The Heart

While there's no one-size-fits-all eating plan, researchers have discovered certain diets may certainly offer more benefits than others. Recently, when scientists investigated the ideal diet for both overall and heart health, they found a combo of two popular diets may do the trick. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, says people who intermittent fast on a pesco-Mediterranean diet may lower their risk of cardiovascular disease.

A pesco-Mediterranean diet is essentially the same thing as a Mediterranean diet but with a greater emphasis on the fish and seafood portion. While the diet is beneficial on its own, practicing time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting (IF) can enhance the benefits, the study suggests. 

The benefits of the two diets.

A traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Generally, it also includes moderate amounts of animal-based protein sources, like dairy, eggs, seafood, and other lean meats. (Here's a breakdown of the macros.) 

This diet has been shown to improve mood, help balance blood sugar, manage symptoms of menopause, and lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by supporting brain and memory function. Plus, it was voted the "best diet for overall health" in 2020. 

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Pesco-Mediterranean diet

When the Mediterranean diet meets the criteria of a pescatarian diet (aka pesco-Mediterranean), researchers say it may have even more benefits. According to the study, people who eat seafood in place of red meat and poultry may be 34% less likely to die from coronary artery disease. This is likely because of the healthful omega-3 fatty acids in fish. 

"There is no clear consensus among nutrition experts on the role of dairy products and eggs in heart disease risk; however, we allowed for them in the pesco-Mediterranean diet," cardiologist and lead author of the study James H. O'Keefe, M.D., says. "Low-fat yogurt and cheeses are preferred," he adds; "butter and hard cheese are discouraged due to a high concentration of saturated fats and salt." 

Instead of butter, the pesco-Mediterranean diet recommends the use of extra-virgin olive oil. This high-quality, unrefined fat source helps lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase good (HDL) cholesterol, which also reduces cardiovascular risks. 

When it comes to snacking, this diet encourages eating tree nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and cashews, which have been shown to lower heart disease risk by 28%

Intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting, or time-restricted eating, essentially limits the calorie-consuming window and gives the digestive system time to rest. Studies suggest it may reduce inflammation and help manage weight

"Our ancient ancestors did not have access to an unlimited supply of food throughout the year. Nor did they routinely eat three large meals, plus snacks, daily," O'Keefe says. "Focusing on fresh whole foods, along with fish, bestows a range of health benefits, particularly when it comes to cardiovascular health."

That said, everyone's body is different, and intermittent fasting—especially prolonged fasting—can have its dangers. People with perfectionist tendencies or a history of eating disorders may want to steer clear, nutritional psychiatrist Georgia Ede, M.D., said in an mbg podcast episode

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Bottom line.

While plant-based diets can protect the heart, O'Keefe says veganism can be difficult to follow and, in some cases, can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Continuing to exclude processed meat but introducing fish, eggs, and high-quality dairy to a Mediterranean diet may be a more sustainable lifestyle choice. 

"The pesco-Mediterranean diet with daily time-restricted eating is an ideal cardioprotective diet," O'Keefe says. To get started, here are a few Mediterranean breakfast, snack, and dessert options.

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