Our guide to the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and it includes less dairy and meat than a typical Western diet.
In this article, we explain what the Mediterranean diet is and provide a 7-day meal plan for people to follow.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
Essentially, following a Mediterranean diet means eating in the way that the people in the Mediterranean region traditionally ate.
A traditional diet from the Mediterranean region includes a generous portion of fresh produce, whole grains, and legumes, as well as some healthful fats and fish.
The general guidelines of the diet recommend that people eat:
- a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- healthful fats, such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil
- moderate amounts of dairy and fish
- very little white meat and red meat
- few eggs
- red wine in moderation
The American Heart Association note that the average Mediterranean diet contains a high percentage of calories from fat.
Although more than half of the calories from fat come from monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, the diet may not be right for people who need to limit their fat intake.
Building a meal plan
The Mediterranean diet puts a higher focus on plant foods than many other diets. It is not uncommon for vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to make up all or most of a meal.
People following the diet typically cook these foods using healthful fats, such as olive oil, and add plenty of flavorful spices.
Meals may include small portions of fish, meat, or eggs.
Water and sparkling water are common drink choices, as well as moderate amounts of red wine.
People on a Mediterranean diet avoid the following foods:
- refined grains, such as white bread, white pasta, and pizza dough containing white flour
- refined oils, which include canola oil and soybean oil
- foods with added sugars, such as pastries, sodas, and candies
- deli meats, hot dogs, and other processed meats
- processed or packaged foods
7-day meal plan
Here is an example of a 7-day Mediterranean diet meal plan:
- one pan-fried egg
- whole-wheat toast
- grilled tomatoes
For additional calories, add another egg or some sliced avocado to the toast.
- 2 cups of mixed salad greens with cherry tomatoes and olives on top and a dressing of olive oil and vinegar
- whole-grain pita bread
- 2 ounces (oz) of hummus
- whole-grain pizza with tomato sauce, grilled vegetables, and low-fat cheese as toppings
For added calories, add some shredded chicken, ham, tuna, or pine nuts to the pizza.
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt
- half a cup of fruits, such as blueberries, raspberries, or chopped nectarines
For additional calories, add 1–2 oz of almonds or walnuts.
- whole-grain sandwich with grilled vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and onion
To increase the calorie content, spread hummus or avocado on the bread before adding the fillings.
- one portion of baked cod or salmon with garlic and black pepper to add flavor
- one roasted potato with olive oil and chives
- 1 cup of whole-grain oats with cinnamon, dates, and honey
- top with low-sugar fruits, such as raspberries
- 1 oz of shredded almonds (optional)
- boiled white beans with spices, such as laurel, garlic, and cumin
- 1 cup of arugula with an olive oil dressing and toppings of tomato, cucumber, and feta cheese
- one-half of a cup of whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce, olive oil, and grilled vegetables
- 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese
- two-egg scramble with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes
- top with 1 oz of queso fresco or one-quarter of an avocado
- roasted anchovies in olive oil on whole-grain toast with a sprinkling of lemon juice
- a warm salad comprising 2 cups of steamed kale and tomatoes
- 2 cups of steamed spinach with a sprinkling of lemon juice and herbs
- one boiled artichoke with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt
Add another artichoke for a hearty, filling meal.
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt with cinnamon and honey on top
- mix in a chopped apple and shredded almonds
- 1 cup of quinoa with bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives
- roasted garbanzo beans with oregano and thyme
- top with feta cheese crumbles or avocado (optional)
- 2 cups of steamed kale with tomato, cucumber, olives, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese
- a portion of grilled sardines with a slice of lemon
- two slices of whole-grain toast with soft cheese, such as ricotta, queso fresco, or goat cheese
- add chopped blueberries or figs for sweetness
- 2 cups of mixed greens with tomato and cucumber
- a small portion of roasted chicken with a sprinkling of olive oil and lemon juice
- oven-roasted vegetables, such as:
- sweet potato
- toss in olive oil and heavy herbs before roasting
- 1 cup of whole-grain couscous
- whole-grain oats with cinnamon, dates, and maple syrup
- top with low-sugar fruits, such as raspberries or blackberries
- stewed zucchini, yellow squash, onion, and potato in a tomato and herb sauce
- 2 cups of greens, such as arugula or spinach, with tomato, olives, and olive oil
- a small portion of white fish
- leftover vegetable stew from lunch
There are many snack options available as part of the Mediterranean diet.
Suitable snacks include:
- a small serving of nuts
- whole fruits, such as oranges, plums, and grapes
- dried fruits, including apricots and figs
- a small serving of yogurt
- hummus with celery, carrots, or other vegetables
- avocado on whole-grain toast
The Mediterranean diet receives a lot of attention from the medical community because many studies verify its benefits.
The benefits of a Mediterranean diet include:
Lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease
Evidence suggests that a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. A study that featured in The New England Journal of Medicine compared two Mediterranean diets with a control diet for almost 5 years.
The research suggested that the diet reduced the risk of cardiovascular issues, including stroke, heart attack, and death, by about 30 percent compared with the control group.
More studies are necessary to determine whether lifestyle factors, such as more physical activity and extended social support systems, are partly responsible for the lower incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries than in the United States.
Improving sleep quality
In a 2018 study, researchers explored how the Mediterranean diet affects sleep.
Their research suggested that adhering to a Mediterranean diet may improve sleep quality in older adults. The diet did not seem to affect sleep quality in younger people.
The Mediterranean diet may also be helpful for people who are trying to lose weight.
The authors of a 2016 review noted that people who were overweight or had obesity lost more weight on the Mediterranean diet than on a low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet group achieved results that were similar to those of the participants on other standard weight loss diets.
Following a Mediterranean diet involves making long-term, sustainable dietary changes.
Generally speaking, a person should aim for a diet that is rich in natural foods, including plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and healthful fats.
Anyone who finds that the diet does not feel satisfying should talk to a dietitian. They can recommend additional or alternative foods to help increase satiety.