People who have historically enjoyed a Mediterranean diet, including the Cretans studied by the American social scientist Leland Allbaugh in the 1940s and physiologist Ancel Keys in the 1950s, are lean and largely free of heart disease and cancer. They also have longer telomeres – a measure of aging – and lower levels of inflammation throughout their bodies.
Why Choose a Mediterranean Eating Plan
There are many health benefits to following a Mediterranean eating plan. A few include:
- The whole-grain-rich diet provides plenty of fiber, which reduces the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. It’s also associated with a lower BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol.
- The consumption of plants, including greens, onions and tomatoes, has been credited for the low rate of premature deaths in the region. People who eat more produce also have lower rates of depression and anxiety.
- Research has proven that people who eat seafood twice a week have a significantly lower risk of death and are more than a third less likely to die of heart disease.
- The healthy fats encouraged in the Mediterranean diet reduce the risk of stroke.
- Most of the protein consumed in the Mediterranean comes from plant protein sources – beans, lentils and nuts.
It isn’t just the Mediterranean region that incorporates these healthy eating patterns. All of the blue zones follow similar eating patterns and are designated as such for the remarkable longevity of their residents.
Losing Weight on the Mediterranean Diet
In a large systematic review of five randomized controlled trials, the Mediterranean diet was equivalent to the low-fat, low-carbohydrate and American Diabetes Association diet in terms of weight loss. It bears repeating that the best diet for you if you’re trying to lose weight, is the one that you can enjoy and stick with. Most people enjoy the Mediterranean diet, which is certainly a feather in its cap compared to some more restrictive plans.
Although in some studies, such as this one comparing the Mediterranean diet to a low-carb diet, other diets fare better in terms of pounds lost, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. While it’s true that the low-carb diet resulted in a greater weight loss within the four-week period – 5.7% body weight vs. 3.6% – low-carb diets result in a great deal of water loss in the early weeks. The study would need to be longer to get a true picture of which diet fared the best in the long run.
Similarly, in this study comparing the vegan diet to the Mediterranean, the vegan diet did encourage a substantially greater amount of weight loss. However, the vegan participants ate a diet consisting of 1,315 calories, while the Mediterranean group consumed 1,855. Therefore, it is impossible to say whether the positive changes to the gut microbiome brought about by the vegan diet were truly responsible for the increased weight loss.
Keeping an eye on your portions of full-fat dairy products like cheese, oil, pasta and red wine consumption will allow you to both follow a Mediterranean diet and shed pounds in the process. “When it comes to losing weight and – more importantly – keeping it off, it’s really important to find an eating pattern that you actually enjoy. Diets that are very low in carbohydrates or very low in fats can be effective in promoting weight loss, but, in my experience, people get tired of the restrictions. I’ve found that a Mediterranean diet pattern is one that people find easier to adopt as a long-term behavior change,” says Monica Reinagel, a licensed nutritionist, host of the Nutrition Diva podcast and co-founder of the Weighless program.
What Specific Foods Are Included in the Mediterranean Diet?
There are no specific foods off limits when it comes to the Mediterranean diet. However, if weight loss is your goal, some foods are better choices to have in your pantry. The Mediterranean diet doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. By relying on canned and dried lentils and beans, frozen vegetables and seafood, and prepared whole grains, you’ll be able to keep costs down and get food in your belly before you become hangry and reach for a candy bar.
Here are some key tips to get started on a Mediterranean diet:
- Most Americans need to double their fruit and vegetable intake, so don’t be shy about adding colorful produce to every meal. The Mediterranean diet typically contains up to nine servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily.
- There is no need to drench all of your food in olive oil, even though you may have seen some famous TV cooking show hosts do just that! Using plant-based oils, such as safflower, olive and canola oil, sparingly will add flavor and healthy fats to your food without racking up calories.
- When you stop relying on salt, sugar and butter to make your food taste good, you have to learn to use high-quality spices and herbs and flavorings such as fresh lemon zest or canned tomato paste to add intrigue to your meals. Be brave and experiment!
What to Remove From the Kitchen
The Mediterranean diet is not the wine, pasta and bread free-for-all that some people like to envision. In fact, many people are shocked to discover that cheese, eggs and poultry should be limited, while red meat should be avoided as much as possible.
The Mediterranean diet shuns added sugar, such as from fruit-flavored Greek yogurt or many pasta sauces. The added sugar that is eschewed by the Mediterranean diet has been linked not only to type 2 diabetes but also to heart disease.
Highly processed foods, such as chips and fast food, also have no place in the Mediterranean diet. After all, when you’re snacking on olives and nuts, using avocado to flavor your sandwiches and choosing fruit for dessert, who needs bags, bottles and jars crowding the kitchen?
|Berry and nut oatmeal||Fruity breakfast salad||Mediterranean egg omelet||
Cauliflower crust breakfast pizza
1 cup grapes
Smoked salmon breakfast wrap
|Ricotta apricot toast with walnuts|
|Morning Snack||Trail mix||Yogurt parfait||Stuffed dates||Apples and almond butter||Sweet potato with cinnamon butter||Triscuit crackers and cheese||Healthier rice pudding with dried cherries and almonds|
Chilled shrimp and cocktail sauce
Cucumber feta salad
|Tomato, pesto and cheese sandwich||Hummus wrap||Lentil salad||
Tomato and white bean Soup
Whole grain dinner roll
Bean burger on whole-wheat bun
½ cup fresh pineapple
|Afternoon Snack||Grapes||Italian-seasoned popcorn||Multigrain frozen waffle||Chocolate tofu mouse||Roasted chickpeas||Baby carrots and dip||Baba ghanoush and pita chips|
Roasted pork tenderloin with vegetables
Easy seasoned trout
|Shrimp stir-fry||Mediterranean quinoa stuffed peppers|
7-Day Meal Plan for the Mediterranean Diet
Avocado Toast (282 calories)
- Top two slices of whole-grain toast with ½ of a ripe, mashed avocado. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of everything bagel seasoning. If you want, rub a clove of garlic on the toast before spreading the avocado.
Strawberries (49 calories)
- 1 cup fresh strawberries, halved.
- Six medium, cooked and chilled shrimp served with 3 tablespoons cocktail sauce.
Cucumber Salad (199 calories)
- Mix together 1 cup sliced cucumber, ¼ cup red onion, 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, ¼ cup feta cheese, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon olive oil.
Roasted Pork Tenderloin With Vegetables (462 calories)
- On a sheet pan, toss 3 ounces of pork tenderloin, 1 cup halved red potatoes and 2 peeled carrots cut into 1-inch pieces with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Sprinkle with herbs of your choice, such as thyme or rosemary. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.
Green Beans (34 calories)
- Serve one cup of cooked green beans with the pork dinner.
Monday totals: 1,484 calories, 74 grams fat, 16 grams saturated fat, 2,325 mg sodium, 125 grams carbohydrate, 26 grams fiber, 94 grams protein.
Fruit and Nut Oatmeal (420 calories)
- Prepare ½ cup rolled oats according to package directions. Tops with ½ cup blueberries, ¼ cup walnut halves, ¼ cup milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Fruit and Yogurt Parfait (265 calories)
- Layer 1 cup light vanilla Greek yogurt and 1 cup frozen, thawed cherries. Top with ¼ cup granola.
Tomato, Pesto and Cheese Sandwich (312 calories)
- Spread 4 tablespoons prepared pesto on a small ciabatta roll. Layer with 2 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese and a slice of tomato.
- Mix two cups of air-popped popcorn with ½ tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese and 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning.
Mediterranean Orzo (439 calories)
- Cook two ounces of whole-grain orzo according to package directions. After draining the pasta, stir in 2 tablespoons sliced Kalamata olives, 2 tablespoons diced red onion, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, ½ tablespoon olive oil, ⅛ tsp salt and 2 tablespoons chopped jarred roasted red pepper.
Tuesday totals: 1,764 calories, 70 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat, 1,062 mg sodium, 225 grams carbohydrate, 25 grams fiber, 75 grams protein.
Quinoa and Fruit Breakfast Salad (458 calories)
- Top one cup of baby spinach with a ½ cup of cooked quinoa, ¼ cup of slivered almonds, and ⅓ cup each of diced peaches, blackberries and raspberries. Create a salad dressing from 1 teaspoon orange juice, ½ teaspoon lime juice, ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon maple syrup and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Stuffed Dates (314 calories)
- Remove the pits from five Medjool dates and cut slits on the top of each. Use 1 ounce of goat cheese to stuff the dates. Push a walnut half into the center of each cheese-filled date.
Hummus Wrap (257 calories)
- Spread ¼ cup hummus on a 7-inch whole-grain tortilla. Layer on half of a small cucumber – sliced, ¼ cup drained roasted red peppers and 10 halved cherry tomatoes. Top with 1 cup of romaine lettuce.
Whole-grain waffle (246 calories)
- Top one frozen whole-grain waffle with either 1 tablespoon of syrup or jam of your choice.
Easy Seasoned Trout (364 calories)
- Season a 4-oz piece of trout with ⅛ tsp smoked paprika, ⅛ tsp garlic powder and ¼ tsp coriander. Coat with 1 tablespoon flour. Fry in 1 tablespoon olive oil for 6 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Cooked Spinach (53 calories)
- Combine 1/2 cup of frozen spinach prepared according to package directions with 2 Tbsp minced shallots, ¼ tsp dried basil, ¼ tsp lemon zest, ½ Tbsp lemon juice and ¼ tsp garlic. Top with 2 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese.
Wednesday totals: 1691 calories, 84 grams fat, 19 grams saturated fat, 1,374 mg sodium, 176 grams carbohydrate, 32 grams fiber, 76 grams protein.
Mediterranean Egg Omelet (301 calories)
- Whisk two eggs with 2 tablespoons water. Heat ½ tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Pour in egg mixture. Once eggs are thickened, add 2 tablespoons goat cheese, 2 tablespoons chopped green onion and ¼ cup chopped sundried tomatoes to one side of the omelet. Fold the omelet in half and slide it onto a plate.
Apple Slices and Almond Butter (312 calories)
- Slice one apple and dip into 2 tablespoons of almond butter.
Lentil Salad (220 calories)
- Mix together one cup of cooked lentils (canned and rinsed are great), ½tablesppons of olive oil, 1 tablespoons of minced fresh mint, ½ teaspoon minced garlic, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, ⅛ tsp salt, a sprinkle of black pepper and 1 tablespoon diced red onion.
Chocolate Tofu Mousse (318 calories)
- Melt 2 ounces of dark chocolate chips in the microwave. Blend with 3 ounces of silken tofu and ¼ tsp of vanilla extract in a blender or food processor. Freeze for 30 minutes before eating.
Lemon Chicken (222 calories)
- Put a small chicken breast (roughly 3 ounces) – or half of a large one – between two pieces of wax paper and flatten with a meat mallet or a rolling pin. Coat chicken in 1 tablespoon of flour. Heat ½ tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken breast for three minutes on each side or until browned and cooked through. Remove the chicken and keep it warm. Add 1 tablespoon chicken broth and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to the skillet and cook for one minute, stirring. Pour sauce over chicken and sprinkle with parsley. Squeeze more lemon juice on top if you would like and season with black pepper.
Brown Rice (109 calories)
- Stir 1 tsp of butter and ⅛ of salt into ½ cup of brown rice.
- Serve 1 cup of cooked broccoli with the rice and chicken.
Thursday totals: 1,512 calories, 80 grams fat, 24 grams saturated fat, 1,349 mg sodium, 141 grams carbohydrate, 20 grams fiber, 78 grams protein
Cauliflower Crust Breakfast Pizza (150 calories)
- Mix 1 cup cooked and cooled cauliflower crumbles, 1 tablespoon liquid egg substitute, ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese, ⅛ tsp garlic powder and ⅛ tsp onion salt together. Pat into a small circle on a cookie sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and reduce the temperature to 400. Cook 1 tablespoon onion, ¼ cup spinach and 1 tablespoon sundried tomatoes in a small skillet for two minutes. Whisk an egg and add to the skillet with the vegetables. Scramble the egg until cooked through. Top the crust with the egg mixture and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes.
Sweet Potato With Cinnamon Butter (154 calories)
- Melt ½ tablespoon butter in the microwave and stir in a sprinkle of cinnamon. Split a baked sweet potato in half and top with the cinnamon butter.
Tomato and White Bean Soup (200 calories)
- Simmer half a can of low-sodium tomato soup, ½ cup of white beans and 1 cup of fresh spinach leaves until warmed through and spinach is wilted.
Whole-Grain Dinner Roll (127 calories)
1 Medium Apple (116 calories)
Roasted Chickpeas (115 calories)
- Thoroughly rinse and dry ½ cup of chickpeas. Drizzle with ½ tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with spices of your choice – for example, you could try smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, rosemary, thyme or curry powder. Bake on a parchment-lined tray at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.
Tuna Patties (213 calories)
- Mix one can of olive oil-packed tuna with 2 tablespoons light mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 4 tablespoons minced celery, 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, ⅛ teaspoon of salt and a pinch of black pepper. Form into patties and cook in a skillet heated over medium-high heat for 5 minutes on each side. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top before serving.
Cooked Peas (59 calories)
- Serve ½ cup cooked peas with the tuna patties.
Friday totals: 1,202 calories, 40 grams fat, 12 grams saturated fat, 1,686 mg sodium, 168 grams carbohydrate, 31 grams fiber, 52 grams protein.
Smoked Salmon Breakfast Wrap (338 calories)
- Spread 2 tablespoons light green onion and chive cream cheese on a 7” whole-grain tortilla. Fill with ¼ cup spinach leaves, half of a tomato – sliced, 2 ounces smoked salmon, ¼ cup chopped green onions and 1 teaspoon capers.
One Orange (86 calories)
Triscuit Crackers and Cheese (234 calories)
- 6 Triscuit crackers and 1 ounce of cheddar cheese.
Panzanella (373 calories)
- Mix together 1 cup of stale baguette – preferably whole grain – and 1 cup of chopped cucumber, 1 cup of chopped tomato, ¼ cup sliced Kalamata olives and ¼ cup diced red onion. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 minced garlic clove and ½ teaspoon oregano.
10 Strawberries (38 calories)
Baby Carrots and Dip (219 calories)
- Enjoy a cup of baby carrots with 2 tablespoons reduced-fat ranch dressing.
Shrimp Stir-Fry (207 calories)
- Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook 1 minced clove of garlic in the hot oil for 1 minute. Cook 5 ounces medium, tail-on, peeled and deveined raw shrimp for 5 minutes or until bright pink and cooked through. Stir in ½ cup of bagged coleslaw mix, ½ cup snow pea pods and ½ cup red bell pepper slices. Add 3 tablespoons of water, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Put the vegetables on a plate, top with the cooked shrimp and drizzle with 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce.
Saturday totals: 1,449 calories, 68 grams fat, 20 grams saturated fat, 2,954 mg sodium, 143 grams carbohydrate, 26 grams fiber, 73 grams protein
Ricotta Toast With Apricots and Walnuts (278 calories)
- Spread 3 tablespoons of low-fat ricotta cheese on one piece of whole wheat toast. Top with two apricots, halved and 1 tablespoon of walnut pieces. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon of honey.
Healthier Rice Pudding (312 calories)
- Put ¼ cup of jasmine rice and ½ cup of water in a small pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Drain any remaining water out of the rice. Add 1 cup of coconut, almond or soy milk to the rice and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes. Add 2 tablespoon of dried cherries and 1 tablespoon of coconut sugar. Cook on low heat for another 15 minutes. Top with 2 tablespoon slivered almonds before eating.
Bean Burger on Whole-Wheat Bun (403 calories)
- Enjoy a black bean burger – such as Gardein’s or Morningstar Farm’s – topped with 2 tablespoons prepared guacamole on a whole wheat bun.
Fresh Pineapple (41 calories)
- Enjoy ½ cup fresh pineapple with your black bean burger.
Baba Ghanoush and Pita Chips (288 calories)
- Snack on ¼ cup of prepared baba ghanoush with 10 pita chips.
Stuffed Peppers (473 calories)
- Make ¼ cup uncooked quinoa according to package instructions. Cook ¼ cup red onion and 1 teaspoon minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil for 5 minutes or until soft. Add ½ tablespoon tomato paste and ½ cup diced tomatoes in juice, cover and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove vegetables from the heat and add ½ cup drained and rinsed chickpeas, 1 tablespoon sliced Kalamata olives, 1 tablespoon sundried tomatoes, ½ teaspoon oregano, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, ½ teaspoon lemon zest and ½ tablespoon lemon juice. Stir in the quinoa mixture. Slice a bell pepper in half, remove the seeds and fill with the quinoa mixture. Place in a baking dish, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Sunday totals: 1,793 calories, 81 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat, 2,500 mg sodium, 264 grams carbohydrate, 35 grams fiber, 70 grams protein.