The Mediterranean Diet: Your Complete How-To Guide |

The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating that is both simple and healthy. Long recognized as a diet ideal by dietitians and nutritionists, the Mediterranean Diet works on the theory that it’s not the food you eat, but the way you eat that determines how healthy you are. The idea behind the Mediterranean Diet is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, beans, and non-processed foods.

The Mediterranean Diet (MD), also known as the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, is a dietary guideline that emphasizes the importance of eating mainly plant-based foods and limiting meat, dairy, and sugar. MD was developed in Crete in 1965, and it is most popular in Mediterranean countries. It is a way of eating that is based on the principles found in nature and that has substantially been shown to help prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and many other diseases.

So you want to start eating more whole grains, beans, fish, fresh fruits and veggies. You’ve heard that the Mediterranean diet is good for you, so you’ve decided to give it a try. While there are so many different ways to follow the Mediterranean diet, there are a few key components that are common to all of them. We’ve put together a handy guide to help you make the most out of it. The Mediterranean Fork is another website you should visit if you want to learn more about this diet and get some recipes to try.

Even the Mediterranean diet seems appealing.

It conjures up thoughts of stucco homes situated above glistening oceans, where golden, crispy sardines jump onto your plate, dripping with olive oil.

Let’s not forget about the wine.

However, the Mediterranean diet is also beneficial to your health from a scientific standpoint.

That’s because it’s linked to a reduced risk of a variety of illnesses, as well as a longer lifetime.

But there’s a catch: getting the most out of these health advantages requires more than simply eating famous Mediterranean “superfoods.”

What is the true “secret” of the Mediterranean diet? Eating a variety of healthy whole meals on a regular basis—along with specific lifestyle habits.

We’ll go through everything in this post. You’ll discover:

Let’s go on the gondola and start exploring.

Basics of the Mediterranean Diet

Ancel Keys, a physicist at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s, discovered something:

The residents of poor, tiny communities in Italy were very healthy.

He credited their good health to a diet rich in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, as well as modest quantities of fish and little dairy and meat.

Olive oil was their main source of fat, and they drank wine in moderation.

These Mediterranean peasants also used a lot of herbs, garlic, and onions in their cooking.

Their dietary choices resulted in the following diet:

  • With virtually no trans fats, it’s low in saturated fats.
  • Unsaturated fat content ranges from moderate to high.
  • Protein content is moderate.
  • Fiber and complex carbs are abundant in this dish.
  • Vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals abound.

The Italians weren’t the only ones who ate this manner. In Spain and Greece, researchers discovered comparable eating habits.

The Mediterranean diet has been adopted and researched in various settings, including Canada, the United States, India, and Western Europe, in the decades after Keys’ initial results. It’s still valid.

A typical Mediterranean eating pattern, therefore, has something unique to offer.

At the same time…

It’s not all about the cuisine here.

Aside from having a unique eating pattern, “traditional” Mediterraneans are also known for their cultural and lifestyle practices.

They purchase their food locally, for example, making several journeys a week to local farm-sourced merchants, sometimes on foot.

They may also get the benefits of their own garden. This implies that the food is very fresh, and the process of obtaining meals is combined with activity.

Cooking and dining in the Mediterranean is leisurely, communal, and enjoyable.

Meals are often shared by several generations of family. Every Sunday, everyone gathers at Nonna’s house to enjoy her handcrafted gnocchi with sauce prepared from her own garden tomatoes.

In contemporary Western society, this is in stark contrast to how individuals eat.

Many of us have been conditioned to eat whatever is in front of us as fast as possible. It’s often something heavily processed that’s simple to prepare and clean up, like a boxed burrito or a cereal salad bowl.

Plus, it’s not hard to picture eating breakfast, lunch, or supper (or all three!) in front of a screen or behind the car, maybe alone or hardly conversing.

We may even eat over the sink if we’re extremely anxious.

That’s not the way to eat a meal.

More importantly, if this characterizes your eating habits, you may be losing out on some of the characteristics that distinguish the traditional Mediterranean diet.

Because of the following reasons:

  • Eating locally is linked to better nutrition, fewer processed foods, obesity prevention, and a reduced risk of chronic illness caused by diet. 1
  • Eating together has been linked to improved nutrition, particularly in youngsters who eat with their family. 2 Furthermore, those who dine with others are typically happier, more trusting of others, more engaged in their communities, and have greater social support. 3,4
  • Even when other lifestyle behaviors such as alcohol intake, exercise, and smoking are controlled for, eating slowly is related to a reduced risk of obesity. 5 Learning to eat slowly may also help you control your food intake and feel more content if you’re trying to lose weight. 6
  • Eating more home-cooked meals (at least five home-cooked meals per week) is linked to eating more fruits and vegetables. 7

To put it another way…

It’s not just about what you eat to get the advantages of a typical Mediterranean diet. It’s also about what you eat, why you consume it, and how you eat it.

You’ll undoubtedly see some health advantages if you eat more like a typical Mediterranean.

But what if you wanted to live more like a typical Mediterranean? That’s top-tier stuff.

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Pros of the Mediterranean Diet

One of the most well-researched therapeutic diets is the Mediterranean diet.

However, unlike many diets, it was not created on the basis of a concept of what should work. It also didn’t become popularity because an influencer “had excellent success with it.”

The Mediterranean diet gained popularity as a result of what a large number of actual people were already eating and doing.

The first Mediterranean diet adherents weren’t on a diet at all; they were just enjoying their lives. That is, it has been shown to be a long-term, sustainable solution for a significant number of individuals.

Now let’s look at the particular health advantages it offers.

Chronic illness risk may be reduced by following a Mediterranean diet.

It has been linked to a reduced risk of:

Cardiovascular illness

The Mediterranean diet was compared to a therapeutic diet in the Lyon Heart Health trial, which included 605 individuals with heart disease. Those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 50-75 percent lower risk of recurrent heart attack after four years. 8

The Mediterranean diet had more fiber, vitamin C, and omega 3 fatty acids, as well as less saturated fat and cholesterol, than the control diet.

Diabetes is a disease that affects millions of people worldwide.

The Mediterranean diet is linked to better blood sugar control and a 19-23 percent lower risk of diabetes in the future. As a result, following a Mediterranean diet may aid in the prevention of type 2 diabetes. 9

A reduced carbohydrate variant of the Mediterranean-style diet seems to assist people with diabetes manage their blood sugar.

(Use the Calculator to create a Mediterranean diet according to your objectives and interests.)

▶ Angina

A Mediterranean diet high in alpha-linoleic acid (plant-based omega-3s) and plant sterols (found mostly in nuts, seeds, and plant oils) may assist to decrease the severity of angina. 10,11

Alzheimer’s disease is a disease that affects people of all ages.

In a study of 1188 healthy senior Americans, individuals who followed a Mediterranean-style diet carefully had a 32-40% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 12

More activity and a more regular Mediterranean eating pattern decreased the risk of Alzheimer’s disease even more (67 percent less likely to acquire the illness).

▶ Cancer

Because of the high concentration of antioxidants and fiber in the Mediterranean diet, it may help to decrease cancer risk. According to several studies, the more closely individuals adhere to the Mediterranean diet, the less likely they are to be diagnosed with cancer. 13,14,15

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When compared to men on a control diet, those who followed the Mediterranean diet for two years had fewer symptoms of erectile dysfunction (ED), better blood vessel function, and reduced indicators of inflammation. 16

The Mediterranean diet may aid in the prevention of ED by lowering the risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a significant risk factor for the condition. 17

The Mediterranean diet is linked to a longer lifespan, in addition to (or maybe because of) its ability to reduce the risk of numerous illnesses. 18

This chart shows popular Mediterranean diet foods and their benefits. From the top: 1) Extra virgin olive oil provide polyphenols and phytochemicals (which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects); 2) Fruits/vegetables/whole grains provide fiber (which help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol); 3) Legumes/nuts and seeds provide phytosterols (which help moderate cholesterol absorption); 4) Fish provides polyunsaturated fatty acids, which help regular inflammation and balance cholesterol

It’s not about cutting out “bad items” on the Mediterranean diet.

Instead, it’s about eating a wide variety of tasty meals that most people enjoy—without imposing any restrictions.

Consider the word “inclusion” rather than “avoidance.”

Sweets, for example, aren’t consumed on a regular basis, but they’re also not “forbidden.” They’re simply delicacies to be savored once in a while (and hopefully with lots of gusto and pleasure).

This implies that the diet is both practical and adaptable, as well as psychologically liberating. Surprisingly, research indicates that this strategy often yields superior outcomes. 19

Indeed, the Mediterranean diet seems to be one of the most straightforward diets to follow.

In a survey of 250 individuals, 57 percent of those who tried the Mediterranean diet stayed on it after a year, compared to 35 percent of those who tried the Paleo diet. 20

Cons of the Mediterranean Diet

Most diets have certain disadvantages, which are typically linked to the foods that are restricted. This may make them difficult mentally or nutritionally—or both.

The Mediterranean diet does not create any of these problems since it includes so many foods.

There are, however, additional reasons why the Mediterranean diet may not be the “ideal” way to eat. (And, just to be clear, there is no such thing as a perfect diet.)

The Mediterranean diet is not universally accepted.

The Mediterranean diet does not have rigorous guidelines since it was not developed by a group of physicians, dieticians, or scientists. It’s more of an eating “pattern.”

If someone follows a gluten-free or vegan diet, for example, you may infer that gluten-containing or animal items are avoided.

However, nothing is really off-limits when it comes to the Mediterranean diet.

At the end of the day, it’s all about specific foods like olive oil, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and seafood.

For some, the Mediterranean diet may seem more difficult than it is due to these hazy boundaries.

For example, if you like well-defined rules and detailed meal planning, the Mediterranean diet may be difficult to follow.

What makes the Mediterranean diet so good may also make it difficult to follow.

The traditional Mediterranean diet does not include a lot of red meat (because the region lacks the land to raise cattle). To be clear, this isn’t a condemnation of red meat.

It’s a simple case of cause and effect: they consume fresh, locally accessible foods, which we’d term a “fundamental concept” of the diet.

While this may seem to be perfect, it may be troublesome for many individuals.

Following a “genuine” Mediterranean diet may not be feasible if fresh food is either unavailable or too expensive (or possible). Someone who doesn’t have the time or energy to make healthy meals is in the same boat.

For weight reduction, the Mediterranean diet may not be the ideal option (unless you combine it with other strategies).

When people start eating a Mediterranean diet, they usually lose weight.

This is intriguing for the following reasons:

Restriction isn’t a fundamental concept of the Mediterranean diet, either in terms of food categories or calories in general. 

Dietary displacement is what happens when individuals lose weight on the Mediterranean diet without trying to change their amounts.

In other words, high-calorie, highly processed foods like pastries, drinks, and chips are pushed out by lower-calorie, higher-nutrient whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins.

While it’s difficult to overeat natural meals, overly processed foods are almost made for it.

(For additional information, see Manufactured Deliciousness: Why You Can’t Stop Eating.)

As a result, moving to a more whole foods diet may cause you to consume less calories without you realizing it.

If you’re determined to lose a certain amount of weight, though, you’re better off planning ahead than than hoping for it to happen by chance.

What is our recommendation?

Combine the diet’s nutritious range of meals with lifestyle variables including exercise and mindful eating, as well as deliberate portion control.

Check out our Nutrition Calculator for portion suggestions based on your specific nutritional needs and health objectives. (You may even customize your suggestions to fit into a Mediterranean-style diet.)

What is the truth about red wine?

Is it true that red wine is healthy for you?

Should you start drinking red wine if you haven’t already?

It’s complex, as are most nutrition issues.

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of red wine may be due to its high content of phenolic compounds, which are plant molecules having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics. (Red wines have ten times more of these chemicals than white or rosé wines.)

Moderate red wine intake is linked to lower blood pressure21, greater levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, lower blood sugar, and reduced inflammatory levels. (Alcohol also works as a blood thinner, which may aid in the prevention of clots.) 22,23

International recommendations recommend limiting red wine consumption to approximately 5 ounces (150 mL) per day for cardioprotective benefits. If you drink more than that, the health advantages start to disappear. Higher alcohol use is linked to increased blood pressure, inflammation, and poor blood sugar control, as well as an increased risk of numerous chronic illnesses. 24

What’s the verdict?

You probably don’t need to quit if you like a glass of red wine with supper every now and then.

Most health experts, though, advise against starting if you’re not already a drinker. 

Furthermore, many culinary herbs and spices, teas, berries, and olives are less contentious foods that are even greater providers of phenolic compounds. 25

(If only oregano, cloves, green tea, elderberries, and black olives made a more attractive drink…)

Read this article for additional information on the benefits and drawbacks of alcohol consumption: Would you be healthier if you stopped drinking?

How can you instruct someone on how to eat a Mediterranean diet?

Here’s the beauty of the Mediterranean diet, in case it wasn’t obvious by now: It isn’t necessary to be flawless.

Furthermore, customers may begin to profit even if they do not immediately alter their eating habits.

Our strategy is to have your client choose one practice at a time and see how it goes. They may select another after they’ve effectively integrated it into their lives (give it a couple of weeks).

This makes it easier for them to get started, and before they realize it, they’ve stacked many new habits that may create significant change. It’s just that it doesn’t seem intimidating or tough.

And that’s a potent change recipe.

The major pillars of the Mediterranean diet are listed below, which you may work on with customers one at a time.

Enjoy and savor your meal.

Assist your customers in becoming more attentive eaters.

This translates to “slow down.” Take a look at the food and take a whiff of it.

Pay attention to the sensations and tastes as you chew. Between bites, put your fork down. Breathe.

This isn’t an all-or-nothing situation, like any other type of exercise.

In fact, many individuals find it difficult. As a result, don’t anticipate hour-long meals straight away.

Most customers will benefit from a five-minute addition to their daily regimen.

Even a little more time may help them notice a little more, relax and de-stress a little, and enjoy their meal a little more.

(For additional information, check out our 30-day slow-eating challenge.)

Make contact with those you care about.

While it may not be feasible for all clients to dine with their loved ones on a daily basis, you can assist them in moving toward greater connection, in whatever form that may take in their lives.

Encourage clients to host a potluck, participate in a community gardening project, or go to their local farmers’ market to meet farmers who produce and raise food in their neighborhood.

Even if their family’s schedules are chaotic and unpredictable, consider planning a weekly dinner where everyone can dine together.

By the way, this isn’t just for adults.

According to research, children who dine with their families eat more nutritiously2, and females are less likely to develop an eating problem. 26

Furthermore, the advantages of eating together last a lifetime: seniors who go from living and eating alone to dining communally in a nursing home or retirement community consume higher-quality food, have a more stable body weight, and have lower rates of sadness. 27

Every day, get up and move.

This may involve more traditional exercises like weight training, but it can also include things like housework, walking a pet, running about with kids, utilizing a treadmill workstation, or just walking to and from the grocery store.

Here’s a technique we like: “La passeggiata” is an Italian tradition. This is a description of a family walk around the neighborhood after supper.

It’s a wonderful way to mix exercise, social interaction, and mindfulness, which is likely why it’s associated with substantial health advantages. 28

Intermittent workouts are also a favorite of ours. These are 5- to 10-minute mini-workouts that customers may perform throughout the day instead of dedicating 30 minutes or an hour to physical activity. (For additional information, see How to Do Intermittent Workouts.)

Consume just what is fresh and local (ish).

Specific fruits (such as figs and grapes), vegetables (tomatoes and wild greens), and lipids are available in Mediterranean areas (olives, walnuts, and seafood).

Red meat isn’t as popular in the Mediterranean as chicken and shellfish, which Mediterraneans may grow in a tiny garden or catch from the surrounding sea.

It’s possible that you and your clients have various eating options.

Adopt the rationale behind eating choices rather than becoming fixated on particular Mediterranean cuisine.

Traditional Mediterraneans ate meals that were produced close to home and therefore as fresh as possible. Those meals were mainly made at home during the time.

The takeaway: Encourage customers to get interested in seasonal and regional cuisine in their area. After that, assist them in developing a repertoire of easy dishes that they can prepare with those ingredients.

The main advantage is that it immediately eliminates many of the energy-dense, ultra-processed meals that people often eat in excess.

Plants, plant lipids, and seafood should all be prioritized.

The Mediterranean diet is thought to operate in part because of certain dietary patterns rather than particular items.

These are some of the patterns:

  • The diet should be based on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Saturated fats (found in fatty cuts of meat and high-fat dairy products) are being replaced with unsaturated fats (found in nuts, seeds, and olives / olive oil).
  • Including modest amounts of dairy on a regular basis, such as yogurt and fresh or aged cheese
  • Using a variety of protein sources, including seafood, beans, chicken, and eggs.
  • Fruit may be used to replace sweets.
  • Using a lot of fresh and dried herbs, garlic, onions, and other natural flavor enhancers

While providing this summary to customers may be beneficial, expecting them to make all of these changes at once can be daunting.

Instead, convert these habits into daily activities that clients may do one at a time until they’re ready to add more.

They may, for example, pick any of the activities listed below and practice it for two weeks.

  • Increase their fruit and vegetable intake by 1-2 servings each day.
  • As a snack, consume one serving of nuts and seeds each day.
  • Every meal should include high-quality protein.
  • Switch to healthy grains, beans, lentils, and starchy vegetables instead of processed carbs.
  • Replace sweets and pastries with fresh fruit.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to one drink each day (or less)

Let’s suppose they want to substitute fresh fruit for dessert.

Do they have to give up cake as a result of this? Certainly not. Progress is what you’re searching for.

Could they, for example, swap dessert for fruit four or five days a week if they eat dessert every day? Or, if that’s too difficult, three days? Or even for a single day?

Don’t be concerned if it seems to be too simple. It’s wonderful that it’s simple since it enables them to succeed. From there, they may expand.

(Learn more about this coaching approach here: The brilliant way to assist clients in changing.)

Is there another way? Examine their existing eating habits and brainstorm ways to “Mediterraneanize” them. Listed below are a few examples:

I’m now eating… Version from the Mediterranean
Steak with butter, bacon pieces, cream cheese, and mayonnaise Olive oil is a kind of oil that comes from Nuts and seeds that have been toasted Salmon with Avocado

Foods to Include in a Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean plate traditionally consists of the following items:

  • A high percentage of fruits and vegetables
  • Contains a high percentage of whole grains
  • Seafood, legumes, poultry, eggs, and Greek yogurt provide a moderate amount of protein.
  • Nuts, seeds, olives/olive oil, and fresh and aged cheeses provide a modest amount of fat.
  • A low percentage of fats originating from animals, such as lard and butter
  • Red meat provides a small amount of protein.
  • Sweets and pastries make up a relatively small percentage of the diet.The Mediterranean diet food and lifestyle pyramid. Starting from the bottom of the pyramid: Regular physical activity; Rest & relaxation; Connection & social engagement; Outdoor time Water and herbal teas Local and seasonal vegetables & fruits; Whole grains Olives & olive oil; Nuts & seeds; Legumes; Fresh herbs & spices Dairy; Fish & seafood; Poultry & eggs Red meats; Butter; White rice & bread Sweets

Use our Mediterranean diet food list infographic as a comprehensive guide to assist you and your customers select meals that are more Mediterranean-aligned.

Please bear in mind as you utilize the list that there is no one-size-fits-all Mediterranean diet.

Our list will assist you in focusing on less processed natural foods while still maintaining a balanced nutritional intake.

It’s OK if you’re a coach and have clients that follow various diets. The most essential aspect is assisting them in being successful regardless of whatever diet (or no-diet) they select.

Great nutrition coaches understand that each client’s eating pattern may be customized depending on the following factors:

  • What makes them happy?
  • What helps them achieve their own objectives?
  • What is a reasonable course of action for them to take? 

Our Best Diet Quiz is one tool that may assist. It’s a fast and simple test that determines how well a diet is working for you (or your client).

What happens if you decide the Mediterranean diet isn’t for you?

That’s OK.

There are numerous different diets that may help you achieve your objectives, including vegetarian, completely plant-based (a.k.a. vegan), Paleo, keto, carb cycling, and reverse dieting.

You may also use the Macro Calculator to look at the “anything” diet. It enables you to create a free nutrition plan that is tailored to your body, eating habits, and objectives. (Yes, you are allowed to consume “anything.”)

Because, in the end, no one else’s opinion of the “optimal diet” matters.

All that counts is figuring out which diet works best for you.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the guidelines for the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a dietary pattern that includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fish. It also encourages the consumption of olive oil as the main source of fat.

What is not allowed on the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that focuses on the foods and cooking methods of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, olive oil, legumes, fish and poultry.

How do you make the Mediterranean diet part of your everyday life?

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats. It also includes moderate amounts of fish and poultry, in addition to some red meat.

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Una is a food website blogger motivated by her love of cooking and her passion for exploring the connection between food and culture. With an enthusiasm for creating recipes that are simple, seasonal, and international, she has been able to connect with people around the world through her website. Una's recipes are inspired by her travels across Mexico, Portugal, India, Thailand, Australia and China. In each of these countries she has experienced local dishes while learning about the culture as well as gaining insight into how food can be used as a bridge between different cultures. Her recipes are often creative combinations of traditional ingredients from various different cuisines blended together to create something new.