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Ultimate Guide to the Mediterranean Diet

Evidence Based

While sexier diets have popped up in the intervening years (hello keto you gorgeous thing), the Mediterranean diet is still well loved.  In fact, it was recently ranked #1 most popular diet in the USA7.  So in this guide we’re going to show you exactly what the diet involves, why it is amazing for your health and even what a day of eating looks like on the diet.  Plus, you’ll discover exactly which foods to eat daily, weekly and monthly.  Let’s go!

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Researched & Written by
Bailey Franzen MS, RDN
Bailey Franzen MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Carolyn Quijano MS, RDN
Carolyn Quijano MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Edited by Digest Life team

Last Updated: 7 April 2021

What is the Mediterranean diet?

I’m sure you’ve heard a bit about the popular Mediterranean Diet and maybe even have a decent understanding of what’s involved.

Hello olive oil, fresh seafood, salads galore and days spent feeding on everything else from legumes to nuts, as well as some meat & dairy!

Pictured: Fresh pan-fried fish on a bed of legumes and veggies, topped with some herbs…welcome to the Mediterranean diet my friend!

But before we get into figuring out the nitty gritty of this diet, we thought it might be useful to quickly look at why it was created and where it originated from.

(This trip down memory lane will show you just how important this diet really is).

Why was the Mediterranean diet created?

Pictured: Ancel Keys. Fun fact – he lived to 100 years old!

So it turns out the Mediterranean Diet came onto the scene in the 1950’s when a researcher out of Minnesota named Ancel Keys first described the diet pattern.

Keys was a pretty cool researcher!

In fact, he carried out the landmark Seven Countries Study, which compared cardiovascular disease outcomes for study participants from the USA, Finland, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Japan.

And here’s what he found out about the diet…

It turned out that people from Italy & Greece who followed what Keys called a “Mediterranean Diet” enjoyed reduced all-cause mortality and showed the lowest mortality out of all groups from cardiovascular diseases. 1,2

Building off Keys’s early research, the Mediterranean Diet is now one of the most well-studied diet patterns out there, with a google scholar search for “Mediterranean Diet,” showing more than 1.27 million search hits3.

Source: Screenshot of results on April 4, 2021.

Does the Mediterranean Diet come from Italy, Greece or somewhere else?

Okay so hopefully we don’t start a food fight here!

You see, from all our research the Mediterranean Diet pattern as it is recommended today is mostly based around food habits observed in southern Italy and Greece back in the 1960s and 70s when Keys was doing his foundational research. 12

This is a critical distinction because, over time the Mediterranean region has sadly experienced a loss of some traditional (and likely beneficial) food habits.

And we must also say, while Italy and Greece formed the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet, several other countries sit along the Mediterranean basin and also influence its food habits.

With this in mind, we want to make it clear that the Mediterranean Diet is a diverse diet pattern.  And it actually varies from one Mediterranean country and culture to the next.5

Generally speaking the diet includes:

  • The use of olive oil as a staple fat
  • A large emphasis on quantity and diversity of plant foods (whole grain cereals, raw and cooked vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, legumes, and nuts)
  • Plus fish and moderate amounts of meat and dairy
  • As well as a moderate intake of red wine with meals. 1

What are the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?

Unlike so many other diets, the Mediterranean Diet has real research behind it and has demonstrated some incredible health benefits.

People who follow a traditional Mediterranean Diet experience less chronic diseases, such as certain cancers, obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.6

Not surprisingly, with the amount of evidence backing this way of eating, the Mediterranean Diet currently holds the title of most popular diet in the USA – as recently found in a US News & World Report.7

Quick Summary

  • The Mediterranean diet was born out of some amazing research by Ancel Keys.  He showed this way of eating led to many benefits, including reduced occurrence of certain cancers and especially cardiovascular disease.
  • On the Med Diet you get to eat a wide variety of foods.  From olive oil to vegetables and right on through to some meat and dairy – it has it all!
  • Unsurprisingly, given the health benefits and flexibility in the diet, it has been voted the #1 most popular diet in the USA.

What foods can you eat on a Mediterranean diet?

If you’ve ever tried an ‘on trend’ diet before like the South Beach diet or the SIRT diet, you’re probably ready for us to tell you about all the foods you can’t eat on the Med diet.

But here’s the thing…the Mediterranean diet is nowhere near as rigid as other diets that have very clear yes and no foods lists.  Instead, the Med diet is all about diversity!  Meaning it includes most foods.

Pictured: From eggs with peppers to olives, cheese and bread, the Mediterranean diet offers you a huge diversity in foods you can eat.

Now with that said, not all foods should be eaten as often as others.

Meaning there are foods you are encouraged to eat often – think daily.  Others you can eat sometimes – think weekly.  And finally a few foods you should only eat rarely – think monthly.

Right now, we’re going to go through these 3 categories and show you all the foods that fit within them.  That way you’ll know exactly what to focus on most of the time, but also aware of those other foods you can 100% eat on the Mediterranean diet, albeit not as often as you might be used to.

View Mediterranean Diet Food List (PDF)

Eat Often

(Daily)

Vegetables – pretty much every veggie can be eaten daily, but the Med Diet is silent on vegetables from far away, e.g. bok choy.

Fruits – same story as vegetables.

Legumes – lentils & all beans.

Grains – wheat, flour and products derived from them (eg sourdough bread, cous cous, bulgur etc), plus gluten-free grains like rice, oats etc.

Fats – olive oil (it’s almost considered a ‘beverage’ on this diet!).

Nuts – almonds, cashews, chestnut, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios & walnuts.

Seeds – poppy, pumpkin, sesame & sunflower.

Flavors – capers, garlic, ginger, onions, shallots, herbs, spices, peppers & salt.

Beverages – water, wine, vegetable juice, coffee, tea, bone broth, buttermilk, kefir & milk.

Eat Sometimes

(Weekly)

Protein – poultry, eggs, fish & seafood.

Grains – slightly processed versions of the ‘eat often’ grains, e.g. crackers.

Fats – animal fats and some other oils, e.g. walnut oil.

Dairy – hard and soft cheeses, especially aged cheese, goats cheese and ricotta, as well as yogurt, Greek yogurt & dark chocolate.

Flavors – honey & vinegar.

Beverages – beer, cider & liqueurs.

Eat Rarely

(Monthly)

Protein – meat, game, organ meats, deli / process meats.

Grains – fast food using ‘eat often’ grains, e.g. pizza.

Fats – vegetable oils (e.g. canola oil), palm oil, coconut oil etc.

Dairy – butter, cream, milk chocolate, ice cream.

Flavors – sweeteners (e.g. agave), sugar.

Beverages – clear & dark spirits, soda & diet soda, fruit juices etc.

Spotlight On Foods

‘Eat Often’

Why you should eat them daily.

Vegetables

Vegetables

The Mediterranean Diet is rich in a diverse array of field-grown vegetables eaten in large quantities per day.1  Some Mediterranean Diet guidelines bump vegetable intake up to 600g/day, about 4 cups raw vegetables or 8 or more cups leafy greens.

This is a dose known to offer the highest reductions in heart disease risk.8 This dose is also above and beyond that needed to prevent stroke, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.8

A review that evaluated 37 studies with 121,067 mortality cases found 300g/day, about 6 servings, of vegetables to reduce the risk of mortality by 11%.10

While eating a diversity of plants shapes the Mediterranean Diet, some particularly beneficial vegetables may be preferred in this region.

For example, Greek students were reported to mostly choose fresh salads, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumber, arugula, radishes, spinach, lettuce with olive oil + vinegar and herbs, or green vegetables baked in pies (leek pie, spinach pie, etc.)

A diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables supplies beneficial compounds and vitamins such as vitamins C and K, folate, β-carotene, flavones, and lutein and zeaxanthin1 — two crucial carotenoids for eye health.11

Similarly, the high intake of folate from leafy greens may protect against cancer risks associated with drinking alcohol (as is done moderately on the Mediterranean Diet) though, studies on this have been mixed.1

Fruits

Eating fruit is a typical way to end a meal in most Mediterranean countries, with 1-2 servings of fruit often eaten after a meal.  For example people might finish lunch with 1 apple or 2 small kiwi fruit.  In fact, some Mediterranean Diet guidelines even recommended to do this three times per day.8

Common fruits in the Mediterranean include pomegranates, figs, grapes, apricots, peaches, berries, nectarines, cantaloupe, and several others.1 Like vegetables, fruits are high in antioxidants and can be rich in fiber, which may improve insulin sensitivity and protect against type 2 diabetes. 8

Interestingly, the after-meal timing of eating fruit may be especially important. This is when pro-oxidant and inflammatory processes can increase in the body. Some studies have shown that eating fruit at the end of a meal can enhance the antioxidant abilities of the blood, which could help to counteract inflammation and damage after a meal.1

Optimal fruit intake levels are around 200-300 g/fruit, or 2-3 servings, per day to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer. Even further benefits of up to 500-800 g/fruit per day can reduce cardiovascular disease risk.8

A review that looked at the outcomes of 34 different studies with a total of 120,033 mortality cases found a 10% reduction in mortality from eating 250-300 g/day of fruit.10

To put these measurements into context, a medium peach is about 150 g, and a medium apple is around 100 g.

Legumes

Whether it’s hummus, lentils, or lima beans, there are so many easy ways to eat legumes and they all make the cut on the Mediterranean Diet!

The traditional Mediterranean Diet uses beans as the occasional stand-in for animal protein, with several Mediterranean guidelines recommending a minimum of 2 or more 100 g (roughly ½ cup, cooked) servings per week.8

The bean target we aim for is closer to 1 cup per day or around 190 g/day. In this range, a daily bean dose has been associated with a reduction in blood pressure and a lower coronary heart disease risk in type 2 diabetes. 12

Even better, a daily intake of 150g of beans per day has been associated with a 16% decrease in all-cause mortality.10 Be sure to get the two suggested servings each week.

But of course, if you tolerate beans well, don’t be afraid to go beyond this mark.  After all, these are one of our favorite mighty nutritional powerhouses.

Grains & Cereals

One of the most misunderstood food sources are cereals and whole grains. So what exactly makes them a healthful source of energy and a foundational part of the Mediterranean Diet?

Diving into the research, we can see that some guidelines recommend 1-2 x 100g servings of whole grains three times per day.   This might come as a surprise to many, especially given the low carb craze that seems to be everywhere these days.

But here’s the thing: certain cereals and whole grains come packed with good fibers that are associated with decreased risks of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even reduced risk of colorectal cancer. So feel free to pass the brown rice and quinoa side dish around!

On the other hand, high intakes of refined grains, which are lower in fiber – we’re talking foods, like white rice, white pastas, white flour based foods etc – are in fact associated with increased coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes risks. And that’s why some Mediterranean guidelines suggest limiting the intake of refined grains to just 3 x 60g servings per week.8

A review of nineteen studies with a total of 121,141 deaths found that the risk of mortality decreased by 25% with increasing intake of whole grains up to 100 g/day.10

Olive Oil

What might come as a surprise, the Mediterranean Diet actually allows for liberal amounts of fat, making up 30-45% of the overall dietary calories. However, more emphasis is placed on the food source of where the fat is coming from in the Mediterranean Diet,  than the overall calorie amount of fat.

Think of it like this, you’ll get more nutritional bang (such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, etc.) for every calorie buck when you do so! The main sources of fat  in the Mediterranean Diet often comes from nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and especially from extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).7 Several Mediterranean Diet guidelines suggest having a serving of olive oil (defined as 10 g by some) either with every main meal or 3-4 times per day. (8,9)

It’s important to understand that EVOO is a crucial beneficial part of the Mediterranean Diet.  A little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on my mediterranean salad um, yes please! If true adherence to the Mediterranean Diet is the goal, then EVOO should be the primary fat source used along with nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.

Previously, it was thought that the high levels of monounsaturated fat in olive oil was the main reason for the oil’s health benefits, but more recent evidence points towards the importance of other beneficial compounds in extra virgin olive oil called phytochemicals.

These beneficial compounds can be lost to the refining process, so choosing your EVOO wisely is very important and choosing EVOO over refined olive oil is critical to getting the most health benefits! 7

Participants in the a study (The Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea (PREDIMED) study, a Mediterranean Diet intervention study) who consumed higher amounts of EVOO (10g increase per day) were shown to have a 10% decrease in non-fatal cardiovascular events and a 7% decrease in cardiovascular death.

Other studies have shown EVOO to have several beneficial effects like improving blood circulation and blood pressure.

EVOO may also have antitumor properties and may aid in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

More benefits include favorable effects on bone mineralization, reduced risks of Alzheimer’s disease, increased anti-inflammatory properties, prevention of certain skin cancers, and antimicrobial activity.7

Nuts

Meditteranean diet guidelines recommend 1-3 servings of nuts per day. Some guidelines define a serving size as 15 grams, about 10 almonds.8 Study participants who ate nuts had improvements in lowering cholesterol, specifically their LDL (aka the “lousy” cholesterol in your blood)l and the ratio of bad to good cholesterol (LDL to HDL cholesterol) also improved!

Tree nuts commonly eaten in the Mediterranean are also high in nutrients such as vitamin E and antioxidants.1

One review which evaluated the results of 16 studies with a total of 80,204 mortality cases found a 17% reduced risk of mortality for those eating 15-20g, about 1 – 2 servings or ¼ – ½ cup nuts, per day. No further benefits on mortality were apparent when going beyond that dose.10

Spices & Herbs

Herbs and spices are a daily part of the Meditteranean Diet. They’re packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties and can also add lots of diverse flavor without tons of sodium, high sugar, or fat based sauces and/or dressings.8 This may be another benefit for heart health, as keeping sodium intake in check helps to promote healthier blood pressure.

‘Eat Sometimes’

Why they’re good to eat regularly, but not every day.

Fish & Shellfish

Fish med

Bordering the Mediterranean sea, fish and shellfish are a natural part of the Mediterranean Diet framework. Some Mediterranean Diet guidelines suggest eating ≥ 2 100g servings per week, preferably of fatty fish.

A review study that looked at the relationship between fish or fish oil intake and coronary heart disease mortality found that eating 250 mg/day of particular omega 3 fats found in fatty fish (EPA and DHA) reduced coronary heart disease mortality by 36%.

However, no further reductions happened for higher amounts. This 250 mg/day dose is well within reach when consuming 2 servings of fatty fish per week.8

For those adhering to a more plant-based diet, supplemental marine algal oil effectively increases DHA levels in vegetarians and vegans.13

Eggs

Eggs are occasionally eaten on the Mediterranean Diet with some Mediterranean Diet guidelines suggesting a max of 2-4 eggs per week.8

Eating one egg per day has not been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease in people without diabetes. However, one egg per day is associated with an increase in the risk of coronary heart disease in diabetics but a reduced association with hemorrhagic stroke.

Eating 5 eggs per week has been associated with a 5% increased risk of breast cancer.8

A review that looked at the results of 8 studies with 30,352 deaths found a 10% increased risk of mortality by increasing eggs up to 60 g/day (near the amount one would get from eating one large egg per day).10

Poultry

Moderate amounts of poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.) are eaten on the Mediterranean Diet, with different guidelines suggesting anywhere from moderate daily servings to 1-2, 100g servings per week. 8,9

Dairy

Moderate amounts of dairy are eaten in the Mediterranean, with many guidelines suggesting around 2-3 servings per day. Interestingly, some guidelines suggest very small serving sizes8 of dairy compared against serving sizes recommended by the USDA. Think of dairy like a condiment, topping off a salad or pasta to complete a dish as opposed to it being the star on the plate. At the same time, other resources offer fewer specifics about serving sizes.

In most of the Mediterranean, dairy is eaten more often as cheese and yogurt than milk in comparison to Northern European countries.1

Many kinds of cheese in Mediterranean countries are made from sheep’s milk (e.g., Roquefort, Manchego, Feta, etc.) and goat’s milk (e.g., chevre).1

Opting for sheep and goat’s milk products may carry some significance for health outcomes. Goat and sheep milk are higher in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a particular type of saturated fat that has not been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

Fresh goat cheese containing 40% total fat content comprises 15% MCT, while a comparable cow’s milk cheese would have closer to 7% MCT.1

Goat milk products still contain other fats that are known to increase LDL cholesterol. Still, the overall fat profile seems more favorable than cow’s milk. The Mediterranean Diet as a whole appears to tilt the balance in favor of heart health.

A review that looked at 126,759 deaths in 27 studies found no detrimental effects from dairy intake up to 750g/day; however, intakes of ≤1000 g/d were associated with a 15% increased risk of mortality. 10

Red Wine

With no complaints here, moderate wine drinking (especially red wine) with meals is common on the Mediterranean Diet. Several studies from outside of Mediterranean countries have shown that moderate alcohol consumption increases cancer risk. However, the Mediterranean Diet (wine and all) seems to reduce overall cancer risk.

Drinking red wine with meals instead of on an empty stomach may help to slow alcohol absorption in the gut. This keeps blood alcohol levels more steady, which may help to limit the production of cancer-causing compounds.

Red wine may also have some health-promoting effects because it contains beneficial plant compounds called phenols. The same protective compounds aren’t found in such a high quantity in other beverages like beer or spirits more commonly consumed outside of the Meditteranean.1

‘Eat Rarely’

Why it’s best to limit them to special occasions.

Red Meat

Red meat

Red meat makes less of an appearance on the Mediterranean Diet, with several guidelines suggesting that red meat servings be kept to less than 2-100 g servings per week.8

While red meat isn’t a mainstay on the Mediterranean Diet, some traditional food and livestock practices likely help reduce some of the risks of red meat consumption.

For example, marinades made with antioxidant-rich olive oil, red wine, onions, garlic, and herbs can help to block the creation of cancer-causing compounds (heterocyclic amines) that can be formed when cooking meat at high temperatures (frying, grilling, etc.).

The animal’s environment and diet makes a difference in the quality of the animal protein.

For example, goats and sheep are raised in the pasture, while pigs prefer woodland spaces. This can result in leaner meat, especially for pigs running in open areas such as Sardinia and Corsica. Pigs from this region have lower saturated fat levels in their total fat composition, with up to 40-50% of the fat coming from monounsaturated fat. 1

Processed Meats

The traditional Mediterranean Diet keeps processed meat to a minimum, with some guidelines suggesting ≤ 1 (50 g) serving per week.8

A review which looked at seven studies with a total of 143,572 deaths found that increasing intakes of processed meat up to 200 g/day was associated with a 60% increase in all-cause mortality.10

Sweets & Treats

People eating a traditional Mediterranean Diet very rarely have sweets, cakes, and cookies. The traditional Mediterranean Diet also greatly restricts sweetened beverages like soda or sports drinks, fast foods, and fried foods.1

Quick Summary

  • Most of the best foods to eat daily on the Mediterranean diet won’t surprise you – hello vegetables, fruits, healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and seeds.  But in a carb-scared world, you might be happy to know legumes and certain grains also fit in here.  As well as red wine.
  • Meanwhile, good foods to eat weekly include poultry, eggs, fish, seafood and certain dairy (cheese, yogurt and dark chocolate).  Beer and cider fit here too.
  • Finally, we saw other foods are okay to eat, but should be limited to monthly or reserved for special occasions.  This included red meat, other types of dairy (eg cream), as well as beverages like fruit juices.

What different versions of the diet exist?

Like most diets that have been around for some time, there are different offshoots of the Mediterranean diet.  Thankfully though, the 3 main versions of the diet are all pretty similar in their focus and intent.

But they do have some interesting differences in the level of specificity of their recommendations.

In particular, the 2019A Proposal for Italian People” food guidelines go very detailed, e.g. “1-2 x 15g serve of nuts per day”. And even give us clear guidance on more controversial foods like red meat and sweets.

Pictured: A snippet from the 2019 Mediterranean diet food guidelines.  Worth a read!

3 Mediterranean Diet pyramids compared

FoodsPyramid #1Pyramid #2Pyramid #3
Oldways Preservation and Trust (2009)Mediterranean Diet Foundation (2011) source Meditteranean Diet Pyramid: A Proposal for Italian People (2019) source
Olive OilEvery mealEvery meal3-4 (10 g) serves/day
VegetablesEvery meal≥2 serves every meal≥2  (100 g) serves every main meal
FruitsEvery meal1-2 serves every meal1-2 (100 g) serves every main meal
Bread and CerealsEvery meal1-2 serves every meal1-2 (30 g) serves whole grains every main meal
LegumesEvery meal≥2 serves weekly≥2 serves weekly
Serving size:
100 g (50 g dry)
NutsEvery meal1-2 serves daily1-2 (15g) serves daily 
Fish/SeafoodOften, at least 2x per week≥2 serves weekly≥2 (100g)  serves fish/shellfish, weekly
EggsModerate portions daily to weekly2-4 serves weekly2-4 eggs/week
PoultryModerate portions daily to weekly2 serves weekly1-2 (100g) serves/week
Dairy foodsModerate portions, daily to weekly2 serves daily2-3 serves every day (preferably low fat)
Serving sizes:
* Milk 50 mL
* Yogurt 50 g
* Cheese 30 g
Red meatsLess often<2 serves/week≤ 2 (100g) serves/week
Processed meats≤ 1 (50 g) serve/week
SweetsLess often< 2 serves/week≤  2 (25g) serves/week
Red wineIn moderationIn moderation In moderation

Quick Summary

  • There are 3 leading food pyramids for the Mediterranean diet. Although they differ in how specific they get, they all support the same foods.
  • If you want extra guidance on how much to eat of each food type, then pyramid #3 above will be most useful for you.  For example, it suggests 30-40 g of olive oil per day, instead of consumer with “every meal”.
  • Pyramid #3 is also useful for ensuring we don’t gorge on caloric-dense foods in this diet (we’re looking at you olive oil!).

What typical meals do you eat on the diet?

Vegetables.  Vegetables.  And more vegetables.

Well, at least that’s what a lot of people think when they hear ‘Mediterranean diet’.  But how wrong they are!

You see, here’s the really cool thing.  If you decide to try the Mediterranean diet perhaps the #1 thing you’ll fall in love with is just how diverse it is.  And that is a true blessing!

Because it means the diet will be easy to stick to over time, as much needed variety keeps cravings for bad things away.  (Compare that to so many of the other crazy extreme diets out there, e.g. the carnviore diet!)

Now with that said, we wanted to show you what a normal day on the diet might look like, so you have a really good idea of the types of dishes you might eat.  Enjoy!

Breakfast

6 oz Greek yogurt or Goat’s milk yogurt
2 tsp honey
½  oz almonds
1 slice sprouted whole grain bread
1 cup mixed berries

Lunch

1 cup Greek Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon

(Ingredients: vegetable stock, brown lentils, carrots, baby spinach, oregano, cumin, onion, extra virgin olive oil, celery, garlic, lemon juice, bay leaves, russet potato, salt and pepper to taste)

1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
2 tbsp olive tapenade
6 whole grain crackers
½ cup sliced kiwi with ½ cup pomegranate arils

Dinner

1 cup whole grain pasta tossed with ½ cup sliced cherry tomatoes, sauteed in 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, with 1 clove minced garlic, ⅛ cup fresh basil, ¼ tsp fresh thyme, and salt to taste
3 oz wild caught salmon pan seared in ½ tbsp olive oil with minced garlic, 1 tsp capers, salt to taste, and a squeeze of lemon
2 cups fresh arugula greens with ½ cup roasted beets, ½ oz goat cheese, ½  oz walnuts, ½  tbsp extra virgin olive oil,  ½  tbsp balsamic vinegar, and cracked black pepper
3 fresh figs and 1 small fresh apricot
Optional glass of red wine, 5 oz

(not included in the nutrient analysis below)

Quick Summary

  • Eating on this diet is fun!  As you saw above, you can enjoy some delicious carbs like bread, pasta and berries, while also getting healthy proteins and fats to keep you full.  The perfect combination.
  • Interestingly, each meal you eat throughout the day will typically use fruit as a dessert of sorts.  Your taste buds will love it!

What nutrients are in these typical meals?

If you ate these delicious meals in a day, here’s a quick look at what sort of nutrition your body would be taking in:

Calories 2012
Protein 82 g
Carbs 263 g
Total Fat 79 g

  • 36 g Monounsaturated fat
  • 19 g  Polyunsaturated fat
  • 0 g   Trans fat
Fiber 48 g
Added Sugar 12 g

Source of Total Calories

  • Protein - 15.6%
  • Carbohydrates - 50.3%
  • Fat - 34.1%

Source of Calories from Fat

  • Saturated Fat - 6.2%
  • Mon Fat - 15.6%
  • Poly Fat - 8.2%
  • Trans Fatty Acid - 0.0%
  • Other - 4.1%

Quick Summary

  • The Mediterranean diet is almost the polar opposite to today’s trendy diets like keto or carnivore diet.  Instead of most calories coming from fat or protein, if you eat this diet they’ll mainly come from carbs.
  • If you look at the meals above, you can see the diet is low protein, high carb, medium fat.  The type of macros best suited for longevity.
  • Lastly, when it comes to fats – most in this diet come from unsaturated sources.

How easy is it to do the Mediterranean Diet?

If you like breaking the “diet rules” every once in a while and being much more flexible in your food choices, then the Mediterranean Diet may be an appealing diet for you!

Plus, this diet is more of a concept than a strict list of foods to eat, making it easier to follow as a lifestyle.

There is also a familiarity to the Med diet because it somewhat mirrors what the USDA calls The Plate Method, with lots of vegetables, whole grains, protein, dairy, fruits, and little sweets and processed foods.

Best of all, the diet is flexible

You see, although on a day-to-day basis you’re mainly eating foods on the ‘often’ (aka daily) list, you’re still able to fit in some of the foods you love if they fit under the ‘rare’ (aka monthly) list.

Hello delicious cake my precious…

In other words, all foods essentially fit in the Mediterranean Diet, it is just a matter of how often they can be eaten.  And this really makes us realize just how good the Mediterranean Diet is at supporting a healthier relationship with food!

Now with that said, the diet may be challenging at times as we are limiting processed foods, added sugars, and working hard to find the right types of healthy fats.

In addition, following this diet will involve lots of grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking.

You see, unfortunately this is not the type of diet where you can open a package or pop something in the microwave for a complete meal, as it is more whole foods focused.

But nothing to fear here! Just get your Pinterest boards up and ready, search around for “Mediterranean diet recipes” and you’re bound to discover loads of tasty & simple recipes. So start pinning!

Source: Click here to checkout these delicious Pinterest Med diet recipes!

Snacking on the Med diet is easy too (and filling).  For example, skip the croissant, cookies, or candy and instead, grab a handful of nuts, some fruit, veggies and hummus, or some olives. You can’t go wrong with some extra plant-based fats, fruits, or vegetables on the Med diet.

So to sum up here, once you get on the Mediterranean Diet, planning a meal can be pretty straightforward too.

For example, do you love salads?

Then head on out, pick up some of your favorite leafy greens and a variety of other colorful veggies. Toss out your conventional creamy dressings and opt for lots and lots of quality extra virgin olive oil and your favorite vinegar.

Even better, add some feta cheese and kalamata olives to it, and there you go!

Pair this with some grilled fish and wild rice, topped with more olive oil, and you have a delicious Mediterranean style meal.

Want to see just how easy it is to cook Med-style meals?

Well, there are 100s of recipe books you can checkout, but here are our 3 absolute favorites.  All with tasty, quick and easy-to-make recipes.

By America’s Test Kitchen

This is a fantastic book with a whopping 500 recipes inside using all the healthy Med diet ingredients we highlighted above.  But it’s so much more, as it teaches you how to think about cooking Mediterranean style so you can eventually riff on ingredients you have and create your own delicious meals.

By Serena Ball RD

If you often find yourself short on time, then Ball’s recipes will get you excited.  They are intelligently designed to be fast to make (around 30 minutes), so perfect for everyday cooking.  And they taste great.  Hello roasted red pepper chicken with hummus!

By America’s Test Kitchen

There is no easier way to cook than with an instant pot (aka pressure cooker).  You literally just put all the ingredients in, set the timer and voila…soon dinner is ready.  ATK’s Med Diet recipes instant-pot-style is a winner for the time starved.

Quick Summary

  • The Mediterranean diet is pretty easy to follow.  Not only is there great diversity in foods to eat so you won’t get bored, but you can even eat some foods most trendy diets would consider ‘naughty’, such as bread and pasta.
  • Since the focus is on whole foods, there is some cooking to do.  But thankfully, there are 1000s of quick and tasty recipes out there for it.
  • Finally, if you like snacking, you’ll love the options this diet gives you – from nuts to veggies with dip, it has it all.

Why do people try the Mediterranean Diet?

Unlike many other diets, there’s compelling and clear evidence that the Mediterranean Diet helps improve the health of those who follow it.

Study after study continue to show its mighty health benefits run the full gamut.

It may not only reduce all-cause mortality, but also cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, heart attacks and overall risk of cancer incidence and mortality. In addition, it might also help reduce risk of breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and even neurodegenerative diseases such as cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 16

Pictured: Enjoying a long and fun life with family & friends is exactly what the Mediterranean diet is all about.

If that’s hasn’t got you chugging extra virgin olive oil like some kinda Italian St Patrick’s day, we’ve got more!

So it turns out there is also some evidence that the Mediterranean Diet may be beneficial for depression, as well as prevention of strokes, stomach cancer, liver cancer, respiratory cancer and pancreatic cancer.

But we must mention, more studies are needed on the Mediterranean Diet to conclusively suggest these additional links. 16

A bonus of the Mediterranean Diet are values inherent to the Mediterranean region regarding sustainability, seasonality, and community. A more plant dominant meal pattern built around local and seasonal ingredients, shared in good company, helps to both reduce the environmental impact of the diet while also maintaining social connections and mental health. 5,16

Watch UCLA explain the environmental benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Quick Summary

  • There is compelling research that suggests eating a Mediterranean diet will reduce your risks of suffering many diseases, especially in terms of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
  • But people love the diet for many other reasons.  It tastes great, is relatively cheap (compared to higher protein diets) and can be quite environmentally friendly.

What should you be careful of on this diet?

1) Increasing your fiber intake too fast

The Mediterranean Diet is packed with fiber, which is excellent for overall health. But, for those not accustomed to eating fiber and gas-forming foods, this could mean some discomfort when starting the diet.

Pictured: Instead of going from no fiber-rich food (like fruit) to bowls of it a day, ease into it.

So instead of going from little fiber to attacking bowls of berries like the Cookie Monster on a serious fructose-binge, we suggest you start by gradually adapting habits towards a more high fiber, Mediterranean Diet pattern .

This will give yourself (and your gut) a much easier transition.

2) Interpreting the diet too widely

While many diets give us firm cutoffs for what is or is not allowed, the Mediterranean Diet isn’t so rigid — which isn’t a bad thing! This is great for maintaining the diet as a lifestyle!

It also requires that we know which parts of the diet can be adapted towards foods consumed outside of the Mediterranean, as opposed to which elements are crucial pieces of the puzzle.

For example, let’s say you go out for sushi and order a big bowl of delicious seaweed salad (we like your style!). It’s important to realize that you are still supporting the Mediterranean Diet’s overall foundation, even though seaweed is not traditionally eaten on this diet.

And in fact, we dare say you are actually further benefiting your health by increasing the diversity of your diet – which is a key tenet of the Med Diet!  By contrast, if you decide to routinely swap red wine for sake, you may start seeing cracks in the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet.

Pictured: Sake…not really as healthy or Med-friendly as red wine.  Choose wisely.

Here’s how to interpret the Mediterranean Diet the right way

  • Extra virgin olive oil: a swap for other oils is likely to compromise Mediterranean Diet benefits. Of course, the addition of healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and fatty fish is excellent, but don’t nix the EVOO!
  • Fruit and vegetables: these should be incorporated with a wide diversity and in large quantities. Bonus points if you manage to eat two servings of veggies with each meal and fruit for dessert.
  • Whole grains: preferred over refined grains
  • Red wine: Consumed in moderation. The preferred choice over all other types of alcohol. Limit to no more than 2 glasses per day for men or 1 for women, enjoy with meals, and avoid binge drinking.
  • Protein: Emphasize healthy and lean sources of protein, such as plant-based  sources like legumes and animal-based sources such as fatty fish, lean poultry, and eggs.  Side note: if you do eat eggs, try to keep intake to around 2-4 per eggs per week.
  • Red meat: this should be kept to a minimum. Think of red meat as a monthly food, something to be consumed on an occasion – e.g. big family dinner on a nice Sunday afternoon. This especially includes processed meats such as deli meats, ham, sausages, etc. If/when you eat meat, see if you can replicate parts of the Mediterranean experience by choosing pasture-raised, lean meats. Consider marinating meat first (use an antioxidant-rich marinade of red wine, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, herbs, garlic, onions, etc.) before any high heat exposures to cut down on the production of cancer-causing compounds. Another method to reduce the production of these harmful compounds is through lower temperature or moist-heat cooking methods (e.g. stewing, braising, slow cooking, etc.)
  • Processed Foods: Keep the sweets, baked goods, ice cream, fast food, fried foods, and overly processed foods to a minimum – again let’s just remember these come under the monthly foods list.
  • Beverages: Drink water for hydration and try to swap soda and juice for water.
  • Dairy: Eat dairy in moderation; around 2-3 small servings per day. For a truly Mediterranean experience, opt for sheep and goat’s milk products from time to time, and go for yogurt and cheese instead of drinking milk.

3) Ignoring the lifestyle habits of the Med

If you’ve ever enjoyed visiting one of the many countries in the Mediterranean, you’ll be all too aware of just how different their lifestyle is.

From long lunches to siestas to intense focus on local produce, they take life on in a very different manner.

Pictured: Long relaxing lunches with family & friends may be just as important as the food itself.

One lifestyle difference in particular worth noting is that people following a traditional Mediterranean Diet typically don’t snack very often and keep food intakes mostly to meals.

Arguably just as importantly, their main meal of the day is usually eaten at lunchtime. 1

These factors potentially could play a role in the benefits of the diet. If these lifestyle patterns align with your individual nutrition needs and can fit into your normal daily routine, it may be worthwhile to give these strategies a try!

Quick Summary

  • Warning #1 – when starting the diet, make sure to gradually increase your fiber intake.
  • Warning #2 – enjoy the flexibility of the diet, but don’t eat too much of the ‘occasional’ foods and drinks (eg red meat and dairy).
  • Warning #3 – if you’re going to eat like people in the Med, then don’t forget to also live like them.  Whether it is more socializing over food or taking a siesta in the afternoon, slow down to the pace of the Med.

Summary & Verdict

  • The Mediterranean Diet was first described in the 1950s after observing people living in Southern Italy and Greece, eating the traditional local diet, had more favorable cardiovascular health outcomes.
  • The Mediterranean Diet is now one of the most well-researched diets out there. Research suggests that people who most closely follow a traditional Mediterranean Diet have a reduced occurrence of several chronic diseases.
  • Core components of the Mediterranean Diet include the use of olive oil as a staple fat, a large quantity and diversity of plant foods (whole grain cereals, raw and cooked vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, legumes, and nuts), fish, moderate amounts of meat and dairy, and moderate intakes of red wine with meals.
  • Because the Mediterranean Diet is more of a concept than a strict set of rules, the diet can be easier to follow over the long term as a lifestyle. While the intake of less healthful foods is significantly reduced on the Mediterranean Diet, nothing is entirely off-limits, which helps sustain this way of eating. Just be sure to keep in mind the Mediterranean Diet’s core fundamentals and stick with those most of the time to reap the benefits of the diet.

References

  1. Richard Hoffman, Mariette Gerber. Evaluating and adapting the Mediterranean diet for non-Mediterranean populations: a critical appraisal, Nutrition Reviews. 2013;71 (9):573-584
  2. Ostan R, Lanzarini C, Pini E, Scurti M, Vianello D, Bertarelli C, Fabbri C, Izzi M, Palmas G, Biondi F, Martucci M, Bellavista E, Salvioli S, Capri M, Franceschi C, Santoro A. Inflammaging and Cancer: A Challenge for the Mediterranean Diet. Nutrients. 2015; 7(4):2589-2621.
  3. Keys, A. (1995). Mediterranean diet and public health: Personal reflections. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 61(6): 1321S-1323S.
  4. Martínez-González, M. Á., Hershey, M. S., Zazpe, I., & Trichopoulou, A. Transferability of the mediterranean diet to non-mediterranean countries. what is and what is not the mediterranean diet. Nutrients, 2017;9(11): 1226
  5. Dernini, S., Berry, E. M., Serra-Majem, L., La Vecchia, C., Capone, R., Medina, F. X., Trichopoulou, A. Med diet 4.0: The mediterranean diet with four sustainable benefits. Public Health Nutrition, 2017; 20(7): 1322-1330.
  6. Nagpal, R., Shively, C. A., Register, T. C., Craft, S., & Yadav, H. Gut microbiome-mediterranean diet interactions in improving host health. F1000Research, 2019;8: 699.
  7. U.S. News and World Report. Mediterranean Diet. 2020; Accessed 4/8/2021
  8. D’Alessandro, A., Lampignano, L., & De Pergola, G. Mediterranean diet pyramid: A proposal for italian people. A systematic review of prospective studies to derive serving sizes. Nutrients, 2019;11(6): 1296
  9. Davis, C., Bryan, J., Hodgson, J., & Murphy, K. Definition of the mediterranean diet; a literature review. Nutrients, 2015;7(11): 9139-9153.
  10. Lukas Schwingshackl, Carolina Schwedhelm, Georg Hoffmann, Anna-Maria Lampousi, Sven Knüppel, Khalid Iqbal, Angela Bechthold, Sabrina Schlesinger, Heiner Boeing, Food groups and risk of all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2017;105(6): 1462–1473
  11. Eisenhauer B, Natoli S, Liew G, Flood VM. Lutein and Zeaxanthin – Food Sources, Bioavailability  and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection. Nutrients. 2017;9(2): 120.
  12. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Augustin LS, et al. Effect of legumes as part of a low glycemic index diet on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(21):1653-1660.
  13. 1. Craddock JC, Neale EP, Probst YC, Peoples GE. Algal supplementation of vegetarian eating patterns improves plasma and serum docosahexaenoic acid concentrations and omega-3 indices: A systematic literature review. Journal of human nutrition and dietetics : The Official Journal of the British Dietetic Association. 2017;30(6):693-699.
  14. Dairy | MyPlate. Myplate.gov 2021. Accessed March 18, 2021.
  15. Oldways. Mediterranean Diet. Accessed March 19, 2021.
  16. Dinu M, Pagliai G, Casini A, Sofi F. Mediterranean diet and multiple health outcomes: an umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018;72(1):30-43.