The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat way back in the 1960s in countries like Italy and Greece.
The Mediterranean Diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil.
It features fish and poultry—lean sources of protein—over red meat. Red wine is consumed regularly but in moderate amounts
The Mediterranean diet should never feel restrictive. Instead, it’s an enlightened way of eating defined by plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, healthy grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
There is no perfect way to follow the Mediterranean diet, as there are many countries around the Mediterranean Sea and people in different areas may have eaten different foods.
Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can cause weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, reduced levels of inflammation, strokes, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease, and premature death.
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The Basics of a Mediterranean Diet
- Eat: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, bread, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.
- Eat-in moderation: Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.
- Eat only rarely: Red meat.
- Don’t eat: Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils, and other highly processed foods.
Avoid These Un-Friendly Foods
You should avoid these unhealthy foods and ingredients:
- Added sugar: Soda, candies, ice cream, table sugar, and many others.
- Refined grains: White bread, pasta made with refined wheat, etc.
- Trans fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods.
- Refined oils: Soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and others.
- Processed meat: Processed sausages, hot dogs, etc.
- Highly processed foods: Anything labeled “low-fat” or “diet” or which looks like it was made in a factory.
Foods to Eat
Exactly which foods belong to the Mediterranean diet is controversial, partly because there is such variation between different countries.
The diet examined by most studies is high in healthy plant foods and relatively low in animal foods.
However, eating fish and seafood is recommended at least twice a week.
The Mediterranean lifestyle also involves regular physical activity, sharing meals with other people and enjoying life.
You should base your diet on these healthy, unprocessed Mediterranean foods:
- Vegetables: Tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, etc.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches, etc. The best time to eat fruit would be when you would normally crave a sugar fix such as in the afternoon or after dinner.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts, chickpeas, etc.
- Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams, etc.
- Whole grains: Whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole-grain bread, and pasta.
- Fish and seafood: Salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, mussels, etc.
- Poultry: Chicken, duck, turkey, etc.
- Eggs: Chicken, quail and duck eggs.
- Protein: Good proteins to eat include fish and shellfish, especially varieties packing omega-3 fatty acids. Don’t forget about plant proteins such as beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds—these foods contain unsaturated fats, fiber
- Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, Greek yogurt, etc.
- Herbs and spices: Garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, etc.
- Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, and avocado oil. Olive oil is the primary healthy fat of the Mediterranean diet and is used for cooking, baking, sauces, vinaigrettes, and more. In addition to olive oil, the American Heart Association recommends healthy cooking oils such as canola, peanut, and safflower.
What to Drink
Water should be your go-to beverage on a Mediterranean diet.
This diet also includes moderate amounts of red wine — around 1 glass per day.
However, this is completely optional, and wine should be avoided by anyone with alcoholism or problems controlling their consumption.
Coffee and tea are also completely acceptable, but you should avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juices, which are very high in sugar.
Healthy Mediterranean Snacks You Can Take
You don’t need to eat more than 3 meals per day.
But if you become hungry between meals, there are plenty of healthy snack options:
- A handful of nuts.
- A piece of fruit.
- Carrots or baby carrots.
- Some berries or grapes.
- Leftovers from the night before.
- Greek yogurt.
- Apple slices with almond butter.
How to Follow the Diet Plan When You’re Eating Out
It’s very simple to make most restaurant meals suitable for the Mediterranean diet.
- Choose fish or seafood as your main dish.
- Ask them to fry your food in extra virgin olive oil.
- Only eat whole-grain bread, with olive oil instead of butter.
A Simple Shopping List for The Diet
It is always a good idea to shop at the perimeter of the store. That’s usually where the whole foods are.
Always try to choose the least processed option. Organic is best, but only if you can easily afford it.
- Vegetables: Carrots, onions, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic, etc.
- Fruits:Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, etc.
- Berries: Strawberries, blueberries, etc.
- Frozen veggies: Choose mixes with healthy vegetables.
- Grains: Whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, etc.
- Legumes: Lentils, pulses, beans, etc.
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.
- Seeds: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Condiments:Sea salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, etc.
- Fish: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout.
- Shrimp and shellfish.
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes.
- Greek yogurt.
- Pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs.
- Extra virgin olive oil.
It’s best to clear all unhealthy temptations from your home, including sodas, ice cream, candy, pastries, white bread, crackers, and processed foods.
If you only have healthy food in your home, you will eat healthy food.
Tips To Incorporate This Diet Plan Into Your Lifestyle
- Replace vegetable cooking oil or animal fats with olive or canola oil. Both oils are rich sources of cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat.
- Choose rolled oats, barley, buckwheat or other whole-grain cereal for breakfast.
- Substitute refined or white flour products with unrefined whole grain products.
- Have a bean and vegetable-based soup for lunch instead of your usual routine.
- Add dried beans to your favorite casserole or dish, or use to replace your usual meat entrée at dinner.
- Round up seasonal fruits and vegetables to have available for a snack during your break or lunch hour.
- Enjoy fresh berries alone or with nonfat yogurt for dessert.
- Aim to have no more than 1 red meat meal per week, 2 poultry dishes and 2 or more fish entrees each week. Have plant-based meals on other days.
- Substitute egg substitutes or egg whites for whole eggs at breakfast and when preparing baked goods.
- Add 2 Tablespoons of your favorite nut to hot or cold cereal, stir-fry, salad, yogurt, pasta or rice dish or trail mix.
- Go for a brisk, 20–30 minute walk most days of the week.
Why the Mediterranean Diet is so Good For Your Heart
you might be happy to know that one of the best diets—especially for protecting your heart—is the Mediterranean eating plan.
Heavy on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oil, this diet emphasizes smarter food choices, not deprivation
A study published this February in The New England Journal of Medicine found the Mediterranean diet such a potent heart protector that it reduced the risk for heart disease, strokes, and deaths from heart disease 30% compared with a regular low-fat diet.
A key component of this cardioprotection is replacing saturated and trans fats—which can lead to clogged arteries and heart disease—with mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol levels.
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Does a Mediterranean Diet Style Follow American Heart Association Dietary Recommendations?
People who follow the average Mediterranean diet eat less saturated fat than those who eat the average American diet.
In fact, saturated fat consumption is well within our dietary guidelines.
More than half the fat calories in a Mediterranean diet come from monounsaturated fats (mainly from olive oil).
Monounsaturated fat doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels the way saturated fat does
Mediterranean-style diets are often close to our dietary recommendations, but they don’t follow them exactly.
In general, the diets of Mediterranean peoples contain a relatively high percentage of calories from fat.
This is thought to contribute to the increasing obesity in these countries, which is becoming a concern.
The incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries is lower than in the United States.
Death rates are lower, too. But this may not be entirely due to the diet. Lifestyle factors (such as more physical activity and extended social support systems) may also play a part.
The Bottom Line
Though there is not one defined Mediterranean diet, this way of eating is generally rich in healthy plant foods and relatively lower in animal foods, with a focus on fish and seafood.
You can find a whole world of information about the Mediterranean diet on the internet, and many great books have been written about it.
Try googling “Mediterranean recipes” and you will find a ton of great tips for delicious meals.
At the end of the day, the Mediterranean diet is incredibly healthy and satisfying. You won’t be disappointed.