There are very few popular diets that are generally agreed upon to be healthy or worthwhile. There are staunch proponents of the vegan diet, while others say that you should swing in the opposite direction with something like the keto diet or even the carnivore diet.
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the few dietary approaches that is almost universally agreed upon to be a healthy and sustainable diet.
But, what exactly is the Mediterranean Diet and the health benefits that come along with it? What can and can’t you eat on Mediterranean Diet?
In this guide, we will discuss the basics of what the Mediterranean Diet entails, focusing primarily on a Mediterranean Diet food list to help you understand what you can eat on this diet and which foods you should avoid.
We will cover:
- What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
- What Are the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?
- Mediterranean Diet Food List
- What Foods Are Not Allowed On the Mediterranean Diet?
- Sample Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
Let’s jump in!
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is a popular dietary approach that is based on the traditional eating habits of individuals living in the Mediterranean region.
The standard Mediterranean Diet can be considered a plant-focused diet, with an emphasis on eating foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, herbs, nuts, avocados, olive oil, and spices.
Above all, the Mediterranean Diet focuses on natural, unprocessed foods.
Compared to many other health and weight loss diets, the Mediterranean Diet is one of the most well-studied, research-backed dietary approaches.To this end, studies have consistently found that the Mediterranean Diet eating pattern is associated with numerous improvements in overall health and may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases and cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels.
What Are the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to provide numerous health benefits, including helping people lose weight and maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of a variety of lifestyle diseases.
The Mediterranean Diet has also been shown to be more effective at helping people lose weight compared to low-fat diets.
The health and weight loss benefits of the Mediterranean Diet are thought to be attributable to the:
- Antioxidants in the plant-based foods
- Heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids from fish)
- Lack of processed foods and inflammatory meat, refined carbs, processed oils, etc.
Given the evidence demonstrating the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, this dietary style consistently places among the top two or three diets in the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of the best diets for weight loss and health.
Mediterranean Diet Food List
So, what can you find on the Mediterranean Diet food list? What does the Mediterranean Diet meal plan look like?
Unlike many restrictive weight loss diets, the Mediterranean Diet is truly designed to be a sustainable, long-term, healthy lifestyle eating plan rather than a temporary fad diet or weight loss diet.
What this means, practically, is that the Mediterranean Diet list of foods you can eat is broader, well -balanced, and representative of the dietary habits of a particular region rather than cherry-picked foods thought to be the “best foods for weight loss.”
Thus, the Mediterranean Diet food list is less restrictive and can be seen as more of a general guide about what you should be trying to eat rather than a hard-and-fast Mediterranean Diet menu plan of what you have to eat every day.
The Mediterranean Diet does not provide specific calorie limits, nor does it even emphasize counting calories or tracking macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats).
Instead, the emphasis is placed on following a plant-based diet, with the foods coming in their most whole, natural state as possible, and choosing specific nutritious foods that are native to the Mediterranean region or found in the traditional diet of those in the Mediterranean region.
Even though the Mediterranean Diet focuses on many nutritious plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, olives and olive oil, legumes, and whole grains, you can still eat certain animal-based proteins such as fish, eggs, certain cheeses, and even occasional red meat or poultry in moderation.
This flexibility can improve adherence to the Mediterranean Diet, though it makes it difficult to come up with a complete Mediterranean Diet food list, since the range of foods you can eat is fairly vast.
That said, here are some of the best Mediterranean Diet foods to focus on:
- Vegetables: Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, leeks, kale, mushrooms, mustard greens, olives, okra, onions, peas, radishes, radicchio, scallions, shallots, tomatoes, and zucchini
- Fruits: Apples, apricots, avocado, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, clementines, dates, figs, grapefruit, red and green grapes, melons, lemons, limes, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, pomegranates, raspberries, and strawberries
- Tubers and Starchy Vegetables: Turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, pumpkin, rutabaga, kohlrabi, and carrots
- Legumes: Lentils, beans (cannellini, lima, fava, green, kidney, and navy), peas, chickpeas, hummus, peanuts, and split peas
- Whole Grains: Buckwheat, barley, bulgar, quinoa, whole wheat, rye, brown rice, whole oats, farro, orzo, freekeh, amaranth, and wheat berries
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, sesame seeds, pistachios, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, cashews, flaxseeds, pine nuts, and tahini
- Fish and Seafood: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, scallops, mussels, clams, trout, halibut, shrimp, and octopus
- Healthy Fats: Olives, olive oil, and avocados
- Herbs and Spices: Basil, anise, bay leaves, clove, crushed red pepper, oregano, dill, mustard seeds, cumin, mint, garlic, parsley, cinnamon, black and white pepper, thyme, sage, paprika, sumac, rosemary, and za’atar
- Condiments: Vinegar (apple cider, balsamic and red wine), olive oil
- Herbal tea or unsweetened caffeinated tea
- Red wine
The following Mediterranean Diet food list provides examples of foods you can eat on the Mediterranean Diet, but that should be consumed in moderation a couple of times per week rather than a daily focus of your Mediterranean Diet meal plan:
- Poultry: Chicken, turkey, squab, duck
- Dairy: Cheese (asiago, feta, goat cheese, halloumi, gouda, gruyère, manchego, mozzarella, parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino, ricotta), cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, kefir
High-quality red meat can be eaten very sparingly, maybe once or twice a month.
What Foods Are Not Allowed On the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet list of foods you can eat generally represents nutritious, whole, unprocessed foods from most food groups.
The Mediterranean Diet list of foods to avoid is essentially everything else, with an emphasis on eliminating all processed foods as much as possible.
Here is the list of foods to avoid on the Mediterranean Diet:
- Refined Grains: White bread, refined pasta, bagels, couscous, cereal bars, pastries, English muffins, instant oatmeal, tortillas, or packaged and prepared pasta and rice side dishes, etc.
- Processed Meats: Hot dogs, bologna, sausages, deli meats, chicken nuggets, pork rinds, etc.
- Sweets: Donuts, cakes, ice cream, packaged muffins and sweets, pop tarts, fruit snacks, sodas, sweetened juices, candy, granola bars, pudding, etc.
- Processed Foods: Canned soups, frozen dinners and appetizers, processed sauces, boxed pancakes and waffle mix, fast food, fried food, instant mashed potatoes, potato chips, snack foods, frosting, etc.
- Refined Oils and Trans Fats: Canola oil, soybean oil, margarine
- Artificial Sweeteners
- “Diet” Foods: Low-fat cookies, sugar-free jello, 100-calorie snack packs, lite ice cream
Again, the goal is to eat foods in their most whole, natural state.
Sample Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
A daily Mediterranean Diet menu plan will look very different depending on your caloric needs and food preferences within the choices on the Mediterranean Diet food list.
However, here is a sample Mediterranean Diet meal plan for a day:
- Breakfast: Overnight oats made with almond milk, a tablespoon of almond butter, slivered almonds, flaxseeds, mixed berries, and walnuts.
- Snack: Boneless sardines on whole-grain crackers
- Lunch: Grilled mixed vegetables over bulger and lentils with a drizzle of olive oil and pumpkin seeds
- Snack: Hard-boiled egg and red grapes
- Dinner: Large Greek salad with spinach, baby arugula, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, and feta cheese. Hummus on a whole white pita, a small baked sweet potato.
- Dessert: Fresh plum slices over Greek yogurt with a light drizzle of organic honey
Are you interested in learning about another potential healthy diet? Check out our guide to the Zone Diet here.