The Mediterranean Diet (with a food list)
The Mediterranean Diet is proven to be one of the healthiest diets in the world. But it’s more than that. It’s a healthy way of eating for a longer and better life.
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Many studies have shown that people who lived in the Mediterranean area (especially around the year 1960) were healthier and lived longer than the average.
This simply means that if someone wants to improve his health and his overall quality of life he should eat the same things that those people ate during that time.
According to eufic.org “far from being a hype diet, the health benefits linked to the Mediterranean diet are supported by scientific evidence. It is associated with lower all-cause mortality and morbidity (disease occurrence), and has been linked to numerous health benefits, including a lower risk of cancer, cognitive disease and cardiovascular disease as well as metabolic syndrome, obesity, and type 2 diabetes”.
According to healthline.com “the Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries like Italy and Greece back in 1960. Researchers noted that these people were exceptionally healthy compared to Americans and had a low risk of many lifestyle diseases”.
According to the Mayo Clinic “it is recognized by the World Health Organization as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern and as an intangible cultural asset by the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization”.
In Greece we have two similar words but with a different meaning. The word “dieta” which means an eating schedule focused on weight loss and the word “diatrofi” from the words “dia” (through) and “trofi” (food) which means way of eating. So, the Mediterranean diet is a complete, healthy way of eating focused on your well-being and not just on weight loss (though it can certainly help you lose weight).
Since through the links in this post you can find many useful (and more scientific) information, I thought it would be more useful to talk to you about the way I have experienced the Mediterranean way of eating by observing my grandparents and by listening their stories about their childhood.
I still remember my grandma telling me that when she and her sister were little girls (during the WWII) their mother used to give them a slice of sourdough bread and half an onion to each during lunch time and then she would tell them: “Now go to the fields outside our village and collect some wild greens to complete your meal”.
Most of the days were like that, but once a week they may enjoyed some chicken with pilaf or homemade pasta. Red meat was on the dinner table only on big holidays. People didn’t have much those days, but they were happier.
Today’s way of eating has changed a lot since then. So, if you want to follow this type of “diatrofi” you have to look in the past and not in the present.
What is the Mediterranean Diet for me
It is mostly a way of life and not a restriction of calories. The Mediterranean diet won’t make you weight your chicken or count how many almonds you’ll eat. It will train you to choose fresh, whole foods packed with nutrients and flavor, foods that will satiate your hunger and make you feel full. Foods that won’t make you feel guilty after eating them.
The goal here is not to feel deprived, but to enjoy the taste and the aroma of each bite you take. And remember: foods taste better when they’re local, on season and fresh.
I know that exercise is not considered to be part of a diet, but one of the reasons the Mediterranean people were so healthy is because they did a lot of exercise. They worked in the fields most of the day and also walked long distances to get from one place to another.
I know that exercise is not always easy, especially for those of us who live in the city. But we have to start from somewhere and the progress will come with time.
Maybe you can get a bike or get off the bus one bus stop earlier and walk the rest of the way home. Maybe you can start going to the gym or download one of those free apps for working out at home. Maybe you can walk your friend’s dog or stop using the elevator. Anything is better than nothing.
The last thing I really don’t want to neglect mentioning is being in contact with nature. I honestly feel that our modern way of life has driven us away from nature, and this comes at a great cost.
I still remember my shock one day when I realized that I hadn’t stepped on soil for over a month. Was that the reason I was feeling disconnected and not fulfilled? Probably it wasn’t the sole factor, but it certainly played its part.
Being in close contact with nature makes us value the natural, unprocessed foods more. It also reduces our everyday stress and our anxiety levels, calms our spirit, helps our body to detoxify and gives us the right perspective of things.
Mediterranean Diet Food List
So, what do you eat when you follow the Mediterranean diet? Below you’ll find a list of suitable foods. You can also check this monthly meal plan with Mediterranean recipes.
- Whole grains like wheat, barley, rye, oats.
- Legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas. They ‘re one of the best protein sources.
- Fresh and seasonal vegetables and greens. If possible eat them with their skin because most of the nutrients are there.
- Fresh and seasonal fruit. Also eat them with their skin when possible.
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, etc.
- Fish (all kinds) and seafood like octopus, shrimp, cuttlefish, calamari.
- White meat (mostly chicken) and eggs in moderation.
- Dairy like milk and yogurt daily. Feta cheese and cheese higher in fat less often.
- Red meat like beef, veal, pork once a week or less often.
- Olive oil is the main source of fat. Vegetable oils can also be used sometimes and butter sparingly.
Everyday hacks for incorporating the Mediterranean Diet in your life
- Buy fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Incorporate beans and legumes in your diet as often as you can. They ‘re the best source of plant-based protein.
- Try to add some vegetables in your recipes. For example, add a grated eggplant to your bolognese sauce or a chopped cauliflower when you make an oven-baked chicken with potatoes.
- Have a salad with every meal!
- Eat fruit for dessert. Limit desserts containing sugar to once a week (maybe on Sundays).
- Replace your pasta and white bread with whole wheat pasta and bread made from whole grains.
- Eat seeds, nuts and fruit as a snack. Homemade hummus with vegetables is also a great snack.
- Add herbs and spices wherever possible! They provide flavor but also valuable phytonutrients.
- Drink lots of water and herbal teas without sugar or sweeteners (maybe add a bit of honey).
- Drink one glass of red wine 3 – 4 times per week (ask your doctor first).
- Walk as much as you can and exercise 3-4 times a week.
- Try to reduce your everyday stress by being close to nature (hug a tree!)
The olive oil
Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which has been found to lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
If you live in a place where olive oil is too expensive and you don’t want to spend a lot of money, I suggest buying extra virgin olive oil and use half of it and half of another vegetable oil (like sunflower or corn oil) rather than buying a refined, lower quality olive oil. In this article you can find more information about the types of olive oil.
If you can incorporate other healthy sources of fat in your eating plan like nuts, tahini, avocado, feel free to do it.
What is not allowed on the Mediterranean diet?
- Added sugar: soda, candies, table sugar and many others.
- Refined grains.
- Trans fats (a.k.a. hydrogenated fat) like margarine.
- Refined oils.
- Processed meat and processed foods in general.
- Buying bottled lemon juice and bagged salad. Don’t take this too seriously though! Eating a pre-cut salad from a bag is better than not eating salad at all, but fresh is always better!
Can you lose weight on the Mediterranean diet?
Incorporating all those whole foods, vegetables and fresh fruit to your diet will increase your fiber intake something that can help you feel satiated with less food. Eating nutrient dense and unprocessed foods will also help you decrease the amount of calories you eat every day.
That’s why the Mediterranean diet has been linked to increased weight loss, decreased inflammation, and a lower risk of chronic disease. But keep in mind that as with every other diet, in order to lose weight you must be in a caloric deficit.
Can you eat pizza on a Mediterranean diet?
Yes you can! As long as you make a whole wheat pizza dough and use many vegetables and some feta cheese. This whole wheat Mediterranean pizza and this Greek pizza are two of my favorite recipes.
Can you drink alcohol on the Mediterranean diet?
Good news guys! One glass of red wine 3 – 4 times a week is okay! But don’t forget to drink lots of water too!
Also make sure to check these Mediterranean sweet wines that are perfect for any kind of celebration
Can you drink coffee on the Mediterranean diet?
One or two cups of black coffee per day are okay. Try to also drink some cups of herbal tea throughout the weak.
Healthy Mediterranean Snacks
- Nuts mixed with sultana raisins or dried berries
- Sliced apple with honey and cinnamon
- Sugar-free banana popsicles (chocolate & tahini)
- A slice of whole-grain bread with honey and tahini
- Yogurt with honey and walnuts (recipe from Food.com)
- Watermelon and feta salad
- Pita bread with labneh
Healthy Mediterranean Dishes
- Mediterranean potato salad
- Greek stuffed vegetables (Gemista)
- Chicken avgolemono soup (recipe from Ful-filled)
- Mediterranean skillet gnocchi with chicken
- Green bean stew
- Tuscan style white bean soup
- Greek baked fish (recipe from NY Times)
- Giant white bean salad
- Greek brown lentil soup
- healthy salmon burgers
- potato mash with beans and greens
- Greek Burgers with Herb-Feta Sauce (recipe from Eating Well)
- Greek fish soup with vegetables
- Revithada (soft baked chickpeas)
- Yellow split pea puree
Mediterranean desserts (in moderation!)
- Greek yogurt parfaits with honey and fruits
- Homemade Greek rice pudding
- Chocolate energy ball truffles
- Peanut Butter Banana Greek Yogurt Bowl (recipe from The Lemon Bowl)
- Tahini and olive oil chocolate chunk cookies
- Almond milk and chocolate mousse
- Olive oil and tahini chocolate cake
- Popped Quinoa Crunch Bars (recipe from The Garlic Diaries)
For more recipes check the blog archives or search by ingredient using the search bar.
If you feel something is missing from this article or have any kind of questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a message at the bottom of this page or contact me!
- The World Health Organisation (WHO, 2018) What national and subnational interventions and policies based on Mediterranean and Nordic diets are recommended or implemented in the WHO European Region, and is there evidence of effectiveness in reducing nonc
- Alexandratos N, (2006) The Mediterranean diet in a world context. Public Health Nutrition, 9(1a), 111-117.
- Martinez-Gonzalez, M.A, et al. (2009) Mediterranean food pattern and the primary prevention of chronic disease: recent developments. Nutrition Reviews, 67, 111-116.
- Eleni Daskalakis, Giorgos Daskalakis, Marianthi Koukakis – my grandparents 🙂