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Understanding the Mediterranean Diet

A Mediterranean-style diet is a healthy way of eating, not a specific diet to lose weight. It includes a lot of foods from plants such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, plus olive oil and seafood. It also includes dairy foods and meats, but in smaller amounts. And it includes a moderate amount of wine. Many studies over time have shown health benefits to eating this way. It focuses on making fresh food that’s full of flavor.

This plan of eating is inspired by how people eat in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. They include Italy, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Morocco, and Turkey. But it uses foods you can buy in almost any grocery store.

Health benefits of a Mediterranean diet

This diet is high in fiber, lean protein, and healthy oils. It’s low in saturated fats and sugar. The diet has been shown to help prevent or manage:

  • Depression

  • Diabetes

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Parkinson disease

  • Alzheimer disease

  • Cancers of the colon, prostate, and breast

What do I eat on a Mediterranean diet?

Plan each meal around vegetables and whole grains. Use olive oil. Add nuts and legumes. Include fish or lean protein. Foods to focus your meals around include:

Food type

What to eat

Vegetables

This includes leafy greens, tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, eggplant, avocados, potatoes, and olives. You can use fresh or frozen vegetables.

Fruits

This includes apples, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, citrus fruit such as oranges and grapefruit, stone fruit such as apricots and peaches, plus figs, dates, and melon.

Whole grains

This includes brown rice, whole oats, quinoa, millet, whole grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, and crackers made with whole grains.

Beans and legumes

These include lentils, chickpeas, and beans such as pinto, fava, kidney, and black beans. Peanuts are also legumes.

Seafood

This includes fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, haddock, tuna, sardines, anchovies, and whitefish. It also includes shellfish such as shrimp, oysters, mussels, and clams.

Nuts and seeds

These include walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, brazil nuts, and pecans.

Healthy oil

Olive oil is the most common oil in the Mediterranean diet. But other healthy oils are canola, sunflower, safflower, and corn oils.

Herbs and spices

Season food with oregano, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme, basil, cinnamon, and cumin.

Wine

Enjoy a glass of wine each day with a meal. Skip this if you need to not have alcohol for any reason.

Foods to eat in smaller amounts

You can add these foods in a few days a week, in smaller amounts:

  • Dairy foods, such as cheese, yogurt, and butter

  • Poultry, such as chicken and duck

  • Eggs

Occasional treats

Limit these foods in your weekly eating plan:

  • Red meats, such as beef, lamb, and pork

  • Refined grains, such as white rice and foods made with white flour

  • Sugary treats, such as chocolate, candy, or pastries

Adding lots of flavor

You can liven up fresh foods with many kinds of flavor. Try these sauces, dips, and seasonings:

  • Hummus

  • Marinara sauce

  • Salsa

  • Vinaigrette dressing

Tips for eating out

At restaurants:

  • Skip fried foods. These have a lot of saturated fat.

  • Look for fish dishes that are cooked without cream or butter.

  • Pick salads that have nuts and seeds.

  • Choose vegetarian options that don’t have too much cheese.

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.