There are no concrete rules for following the Mediterranean diet, but general guidelines can help you incorporate its principles into your daily routine.
This article takes a closer look at the Mediterranean diet, how to follow it, and how it can affect your health. We also offer some meal tips and direct you to some handy recipes.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Spain, Greece, and Italy.
Some research has suggested that people living in these regions tend to be healthier and have a lower risk of many chronic conditions, compared with people who follow a standard American diet.
It typically encourages people to:
- consume more:
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds
- heart-healthy fats
- consume less:
- processed foods
- added sugars
- refined grains
- limitalcohol consumption
Research has indicated that the Mediterranean diet can:
- promote weight loss
- help prevent heart attacks, stroke, and type 2 diabetes
- reduce the risk of premature death
For this reason, the Mediterranean diet is a suitable option for those looking to improve their health and protect against chronic disease.
How to follow it
There is no set plan for following a Mediterranean diet, but the following table offers some guidelines:
|Focus on||vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil|
|Low to moderate consumption||poultry, eggs, cheese, yogurt, red wine|
|Limit or avoid||red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, other highly processed foods, beers, and liqors|
Features of a Mediterranean lifestyle that may also benefit a person’s health include:
- sharing meals with others, without distraction from screens and other devices
- consuming red wine in small servings, with a meal, and not every day
- flavoring foods with herbs and spices rather than salt
Foods to eat
It is difficult to define which foods belong to the Mediterranean diet, partly because there’s variation between countries.
Overall, however, the diet:
- is high in healthy plant foods
- is low in animal products and meat
- includes fish and seafood at least twice a week
You can include a mix of fresh, frozen, dried, and canned fruits and vegetables, but check package labels for added sugar and sodium.
You can base your diet on these foods:
- Vegetables: tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butters: almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almond butter, peanut butter
- Legumes: beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts, chickpeas
- Whole grains: oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat bread and pasta
- Fish and seafood:salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, mussels
- Poultry: chicken, duck, turkey
- Eggs: chicken, quail, and duck eggs
- Dairy: cheese, yogurt, milk
- Herbs and spices:garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper
- Healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, and avocado oil
Foods to limit
Foods to limit on a Mediterranean diet include:
- Added sugar:added sugar is found in many foods but especially high in soda, candies, ice cream, table sugar, syrup, and baked goods
- Refined grains: white bread, pasta, tortillas, chips, crackers
- Trans fats: found in margarine, fried foods, and other processed foods
- Processed meat: processed sausages, hot dogs, deli meats, beef jerky
- Highly processed foods: fast food, convenience meals, microwave popcorn, granola bars
Drinks to include are:
- coffee and tea are also suitable, but with limited sugar or cream
- small to moderate amounts of red wine, and only alongside a meal
- fresh fruit juices without added sugar
Drinks to limit:
- beer and liqor
- sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas, which are high in added sugar
- fruit juices with added sugar
Sample menu and recipes
Below is a sample menu for 1 week of meals on the Mediterranean diet.
Feel free to adjust the portions and food choices based on your own needs and preferences, and add snacks as desired.
For more ideas, check out this list of 21 healthy Mediterranean recipes.
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with strawberries and chia seeds
- Lunch: a whole grain sandwich with hummus and vegetables
- Dinner: a tuna salad with greens and olive oil, as well as a fruit salad
- Breakfast: oatmeal with blueberries
- Lunch: caprese zucchini noodles with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar
- Dinner: a salad with tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, farro, baked trout, and feta cheese
- Breakfast: an omelet with mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions
- Lunch: a whole grain sandwich with cheese and fresh vegetables
- Dinner: Mediterranean lasagna
- Breakfast:yogurt with sliced fruit and nuts
- Lunch: a quinoa salad with chickpeas
- Dinner: broiled salmon with brown rice and vegetables
- Breakfast: eggs and sautéed vegetables with whole wheat toast
- Lunch: stuffed zucchini boats with pesto, turkey sausage, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cheese
- Dinner: grilled lamb with salad and baked potato
- Breakfast: oatmeal with nuts and raisins or apple slices
- Lunch: lentil salad with feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives
- Dinner: Mediterranean pizza made with whole wheat pita bread and topped with cheese, vegetables, and olives
- Breakfast: an omelet with veggies and olives
- Lunch: falafel bowl with feta, onions, tomatoes, hummus, and rice
- Dinner: grilled chicken with vegetables, sweet potato fries, and fresh fruit
There’s usually no need to count calories or track macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) on the Mediterranean diet, unless you are managing your glucose levels.
But, it is essential to consume all food in moderation.
If you start feeling hungry between meals, there are plenty of healthy snack options, such as:
Many restaurants serve foods that fit in with the Mediterranean diet.
Here are some tips to help adapt dishes when you’re eating out:
- Choose fish or seafood as your main dish.
- Ask for grilled foods rather than fried, where possible.
- Ask the server if your food can be cooked in extra virgin olive oil.
- Choose whole grain bread, with olive oil instead of butter.
- Add vegetables to your order.
These tips for eating healthy at restaurants may also be helpful.
When shopping, opt for nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
Here are some basic Mediterranean diet items to add to your shopping list:
- Vegetables: carrots, onions, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic, zucchini, mushrooms
- Frozen veggies: peas, carrots, broccoli, mixed vegetables
- Tubers: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, melons, peaches, pears, strawberries, blueberries
- Grains: whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, quinoa, brown rice, oats
- Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts
- Seeds: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds
- Condiments: sea salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, oregano
- Seafood: salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, shrimp, mussels
- Dairy products: Greek yogurt, yogurt, milk
- Poultry: chicken, duck, turkey
- Eggs: chicken, quail, and duck eggs
- Healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, avocado oil
Potential benefits of a Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a long list of health benefits.
Helps with weight loss
Research has not confirmed that following a Mediterranean diet will cause a person to lose weigh. However, studies have suggested it may be a good long-term option for people seeking to manage their weight.
Data for people who followed the diet for 5 years indicated they were less likely to gain excess weight than those on other diets.
- plenty of variety means the diet is not restrictive and therefore easy to maintain
- high fiber levels means a person is more likely to feel satisfied for longer and less likely to snack
- the healthy fats are less likely to cause heart problems linked to obesity
Promotes heart health
The American Heart Association recommends the Mediterranean diet as an evidence-driven options for preventing cardiovascular disease and stroke.
In 2021, for instance, some researchers compared the effects of the Mediterranean diet with those of a low fat diet. They concluded that the Mediterranean diet was more effective at slowing the progression of plaque buildup in the arteries. Plaque buildup is a major risk factor for heart disease.
The authors of another study said the Mediterranean diet could support heart health by lowering blood pressure.
Supports healthy blood sugar levels
The Mediterranean diet may help stabilize blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes.
Studies have suggested that it may:
- reduce fasting blood sugar levels
- improve levels of hemoglobin A1C, a marker used to measure long-term glucose levels
- decrease insulin resistance, which stops the body from using insulin to regulate blood sugar levels effectively
Protects brain function
The Mediterranean diet may benefit brain health and prevent cognitive decline as you get older.
One study found a possible link between following a Mediterranean diet, improved memory, and reductions in several risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
A large review also linked the Mediterranean diet to improvements in cognitive function, memory, attention, and processing speed in healthy older adults.
Frequently asked questions
What are the main foods in a Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet focuses largely on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
What are the top 10 foods on a Mediterranean diet?
Examples of foods to consume on a Mediterranean diet include:
- olives and olive oil
- sunflower seeds
You can drink a low to moderate amount of red wine, in small servings and with a meal.
What foods can you not eat?
You should limit or avoid your intake of:
- red meat
- processed foods, including meats
- refined carbohydrates, such as added sugars
- sweetened drinks
- liqor and beer
Can you eat eggs on the Mediterranean diet?
You can eat eggs in moderation, for example, 2–4 servings weekly.
The bottom line
There is no single Mediterranean diet, but general guidelines suggest focusing on healthy plant foods and a moderate intake of dairy products and fish or seafood. The diet does not include highly processed foods, such as candies and processed meats.
The Mediterranean diet may have numerous health benefits. For instance, it may help prevent weight gain, stabilize blood sugar levels, promote heart health, and enhance brain function.
One reason the Mediterranean diet can benefit your health is that it provides a balance of nutrients and is adaptable and easy to stick to.
Just one thing
Try this today: Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks throughout the day is a great way to get started on the Mediterranean diet. Try adding a side salad or steamed veggie dish to your main meals and enjoy a fresh piece of fruit for dessert!