Mediterranean Diet: Guide to Healthy Food, Recipes, and Tips

Written by Salma Younas | Last updated on August 4, 2023

What is Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a delicious and nutritious diet. It has captured the attention of both food lovers and health enthusiasts alike. Imagine eating fresh, colorful fruit, fragrant herbs, and heart-friendly olive oil. 

All while enjoying a number of health benefits such as a lower risk of chronic diseases and a longer lifespan.

Did you know that the Mediterranean-style diet is also one of the dietary patterns typically seen in Blue Zones? 

These are areas of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives. 

That's right. 

The Mediterranean diet is a prominent Blue Zone diet. Combined with regular physical activity, the Mediterranean diet is one of the secrets to a long and healthy life.

Overall, the Mediterranean diet is a delicious and nutritious way of eating, backed by research to increase health and lifespan. [1] 

History and Origin of the Mediterranean Diet

For centuries, the Mediterranean diet has existed. 

Traced back mainly to Greece, Southern Italy, and Crete—three regions in the Mediterranean—this diet is made up primarily of fresh fruits. 

mediterrannean food

While being low in red meat intake, fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes from local sources provide a major chunk of the underlying Mediterranean Diet. Traditional Mediterranean cuisine encourages consuming lots of fresh produce. 

In his original research conducted during his trip to the Mediterranean, an American physiologist named Ancel Keys made a significant discovery after closely examining local lifestyles. Their diets contributed substantially toward factors such as longevity or overall fitness levels. [2]

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been demonstrated in various studies.

A meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal discovered positive findings about people following the diet. They were found to be at a decreased risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and overall mortality. [3]

The history of the diet makes it worth investigating. The combination of fresh, nutritious food with traditional recipes has made the Mediterranean diet one of the most recognized and healthy diets. 

Reasons Why the Mediterranean Diet is popular

The reason behind the popularity of the Mediterranean diet is its many health benefits.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds are encouraged. Poultry and fish may be consumed moderately. Whereas, red meat and sweets are discouraged.

Eating according to a traditional Mediterranean diet has been shown to link towards having lower chances surrounding serious illnesses including but not limited to various types of cancers - most prominently characterized by a lesser incidence rate amongst individuals who follow it. 

To attain good health levels one must consume a high-level supply of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which are found largely in the fruits, vegetables, and grain types eaten as part of the Mediterranean diet.

Another important ingredient is olive oil

olive oil in a jar

Not only does it lower inflammation and improve cholesterol levels, but it is also rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. 

Olive oil is considered a key aspect of the Mediterranean diet. Red wine rich in resveratrol consumed moderately could be another factor contributing towards a healthy Mediterranean-style diet. 

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

 The consumption of the Mediterranean diet is associated with multiple positive effects on health. A reduced risk of heart problems is among the primary benefits. 

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats make up an important part of the popularly acknowledged healthy lifestyle choice—the Mediterranean diet—that helps individuals reduce their chances of developing cases related to heart concerns. 

A precise characteristic that comes along with following the Mediterranean diet is that it reduces inflammation while simultaneously lowering bad cholesterol (LDL). It is this specific benefit that makes it potentially helpful against any sort of cardiac-related problem.

By including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in their diets and adhering to a Mediterranean-style plant-based plan, individuals may reduce their risk for type 2 diabetes [4] 

The consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with high fiber content can lead to lower blood sugar levels and better insulin sensitivity. 

Moreover, the diet has been demonstrated to provide certain cancer prevention [5]

Plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. This reduces the risk of cell damage and, ultimately, cancer. 

The Mediterranean diet is recommended for anyone who wants to improve their health and lower their chance of getting heart disease through food alone. 

Foods to Eat

The Mediterranean diet consists predominantly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Where fish, chicken, and dairy products are consumed in moderation.

platter filled with mediterranean food

The diet focuses on healthy fats like olive oil and almonds. It limits red meat and processed meals. Foods are also seasoned with herbs and spices rather than salt.

The following foods are typical of the Mediterranean diet.

  • In fruits, you can eat apples, oranges, grapes, pomegranates, dates, figs
  •  In vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, spinach, kale, onions, and garlic are consumed
  • In whole grains, bulgur, couscous, farro, barley, and quinoa are consumed
  • In nuts and seeds, you can munch on almonds, pistachios, walnuts, sesame seeds
  • In legumes, chickpeas, lentils, beans
  • In fish and seafood, you can eat salmon, tuna, sardines, shrimp, mussels
  • In poultry, chicken, turkey, and duck can be consumed
  • In dairy products, cheese, yogurt, milk (in moderation)
  • In healthy fats, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds can be ingested.

The Mediterranean diet is a sustainable diet plan. It has been shown to benefit heart health, decrease inflammation, and lessen the likelihood of developing chronic illnesses. 

1) Fresh Vegetables and Fruits:

A diet high in vegetables and fruits is associated with several health benefits. It includes a reduced risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers; improved vision and digestion, and a decreased tendency toward overeating. Fruits and vegetables may also help in losing weight.

 In order to provide your body with a balance of nutrients, it is best to eat a wide range of fruits and vegetables. In addition to providing tasty meals, this also ensures that the majority of the useful compounds are consumed. 

The recommended daily dose is at least 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day.  

2)  Whole Grains and Legumes

Fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients may be found in whole grains and legumes.

Whole grains and legumes, like fruits and vegetables, are excellent for maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure. You'll be less likely to get diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses if you eat these foods.

Whole grains and legumes are a cheaper and healthier option for a source of proteins, carbs, fibers, and micronutrients like folate. 

3)  Healthy Fats and Meat

Meat has high protein levels (15–25%) and nutritional value, which means it has all the necessary amino acids needed to make protein in the right amounts. This makes it a very important part of a healthy diet. 

There are also minor minerals like iron, zinc, and copper, which are all B-complex vitamins. But be careful, because not all of these meals are the same. 

For a healthy diet, it's best to eat fewer chops and more sausages and leaner cuts of beef, pork, white meat, and fish. 

Eggs can be eaten twice or three times a week by a healthy person.

The majority of our weekly diet should be made up of foods from this group, except for red meat, which should only be eaten once or twice a month. 

Fresh, cold, or frozen, animal meals always have high-quality protein, important minerals, and B-complex vitamins like thiamine (vitamin B1), niacin, and vitamin B12. 

Other nutrients, like iodine, which is mostly found in fish, and fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A and D, which are mostly found in the liver, can also be found in high amounts in some of these foods.

4)  Fish and Seafood

raw sashimi plate

Fish is a good source of energy, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.

 Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish with a lot of fat, such as salmon, tuna, and sardines. 

These fatty acids are beneficial for the brain, the heart, and for reducing inflammation. 

One study found that people who ate fish and shrimp had the lowest rates of sadness and brain damage. There is vitamin D, salt, and selenium in seafood.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week.It improves your brain and heart health, is good for your skin and hair, and eases joint pain.  

5)  Low-Fat Dairy Products

Dairy includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and other similar foods. This food group makes it easy to get the calcium you need every day. There are high-quality proteins and vitamins B2 and A in these recipes. 

Calcium is easy for the body to receive and use, so milk and milk products are good sources of this mineral. Calcium has a wide array of uses in your body.

In addition to helping your bones grow strong, calcium and dairy products play a role in your heart rhythm, muscle function, and dental health. Dairy products are a source of proteins, probiotics, vvitamins,and minerals. 

The fastest way to get the nutrients from this group is through milk, but yogurt and cheese are also good choices. Plant-based milk alternatives and calcium rich foods (such as leafy green vegetables, cereals, etc.) are some options available if you are lactose intolerant.  

6)  Red Wine (In Moderation)

red wine

Low-carb and heart-healthy alcoholic beverages are acceptable on the Mediterranean diet. Therefore, red wine has been the beverage of choice. Red wine is versatile enough to use in the kitchen or just enjoy by the glass. 

The key is moderation and responsible consumption. 

The phenolic compounds in red wine have been shown to have cardioprotective benefits owing to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics. 

However, drinking to excess is harmful to your health and should be avoided. 

Foods to Avoid

While there is a wide variety of foods one can choose from while adopting the Mediterranean diet, there are certain foods that must be avoided to achieve the perfect healthy diet. 

Foods to be avoided are:

  • Sweets: Don't eat dessert every day; save it for special occasions.
  • Red Meat: Think of red meat as a side dish.
  • Alcohol: Drinking red wine in moderation is OK, but excessive alcohol use has negative effects on health. People who do not already consume alcohol should not start.
  • Processed products: Buttery crisps and potato chips don't belong in a Mediterranean diet, but there are lots of other healthy snack alternatives to choose from.
  • Sugary beverages: Fruit juice and other sugary beverages should be avoided.
  • Processed meat: In this culture, processed meat is seldom, if ever, eaten.
  • Butter: Replace butter with something more nutritious, like olive oil.
  • Dairy products that are 100% whole fat: Few people eat ice cream or other full-fat dairy items. 

Sample Menu

 In order to start your journey of the Mediterranean diet, it is important to plan a menu that will keep you on track. To get a jump start, you can follow the following menu.

Menu 1

  • Breakfast: Yogurt and almonds. Extra virgin olive oil and sea salt-topped whole-grain bread
  • Coffee/tea Snack: Almond butter with apples 
  • Lunch: Balsamic vinegar and olive oil-roasted zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers with grilled salmon fillet. Hummus-topped whole-grain bread Lemonade soda
  • Snack: Carrots sticks with dip
  • Dinner: Grilled lemon-herb chicken breast with quinoa and olive oil-and-red wine vinegar-dressed salad. Steamed broccoli red wine
  • Dessert: Cinnamon-topped yogurt salad. 

Menu 2

  • Breakfast: Banana-walnut-honey oatmeal orange juice
  • Coffee/tea Snack: Cucumber with sauce dip
  • Lunch: Mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, feta, olive oil, and lemon juice salad. Shrimp skewers with sweet potato wedges Carbonated lemonade.
  • Snack: Greek yogurt with honeyed peaches.
  • Dinner: Baked salmon with Brussels sprouts. Extra virgin olive oil-drizzled whole grain bread with sea salt red wine
  • Dessert: Strawberry-whipped cream

You can experiment with the wide array of ingredients available to make the perfect Mediterranean diet plan for yourself according to your preferences. 

How to adopt the Mediterranean diet?

Before starting the Mediterranean diet, it is important to understand that it is not merely a diet that you have to strictly conform to. 

It is a change in your lifestyle

It is about making healthier decisions to live a better life.

It is imperative to consult a dietitian or nutritionist before making major changes to your diet. 

With their help, you can make a personalized menu that will be sustainable and that you will be comfortable with. 

As you get started with the Mediterranean Diet, you may be wondering how much leeway you have in changing things around. 

The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating in general, so keep that in mind. This is not a regimen with rigid guidelines. So, you may modify it to fit your requirements. 

Sample Shopping List

The next time you go grocery shopping, and you don’t know what to buy for your Mediterranean grocery list? Well, we've got you covered. Following is a sample list to whip out when you’re buying your next groceries:


  • Fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas, berries, tomatoes and peaches
  • Vegetables such as cucumbers, bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, leafy greens, and broccoli
  • Lemons and limes to flavor and dress
  • Flavoring such as olives and capers


  • Fresh salmon, tuna, cod, and shrimp
  • Chicken breast or thighs
  • Chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans are legumes.
  • Egg


  • Greek yogurt
  • Parmesan cheese


  • Whole-grain bread
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa 


  • Walnuts, almonds, cashews
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seed

Sauces and oils:

  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Red vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • Honey-Tzatziki dip


  • Basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and black pepper
  • Mineral or sparkling water
  • Optional red wine 

Weight Loss with the Mediterranean Diet

A thorough study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that the results of the Mediterranean diet and other weight loss plans, like a low-carb plan, were the same [6].

In simple words, yes, you can use the Mediterranean diet to keep your body weight in check and even reduce it to reach a healthy body mass index (BMI). 

Generally, the diet includes healthy fats, nutrient rich whole foods, and lean proteins. 

This helps you feel satiated and full, decreasing the frequency of overeating. Following this diet plan, coupled with exercise, is the key to maintaining a healthy body weight. To make sustainable and long-term changes to your weight, it is recommended that you consult a dietician to formulate a proper plan. 

Live longer with Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is followed by people living in the Blue Zones of the world. The average life expectancy in the Blue Zone is up to 100 years.

Numerous studies have been conducted in recent years to unravel the wonders of this healthy diet. Its longevity inducing effect can be linked to its numerous health benefits.

For instance,

  • It reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases
  • Lowers the risk of cancer
  • Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Decreased effect of Stress
  • Minimizes stress-related inflammation

A study released in the British Medical Journal found that eating a Mediterranean diet was linked to a 20% lower risk of all-cause mortality (death from any cause) over a 10-year period [7]

Another study, which was released in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that older people who ate a Mediterranean diet had a 25% lower risk of dying than those who didn't [8]

Frequently Asked Questions

1)      What are the main foods in Mediterranean diet?

Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, shellfish, nuts, legumes, and olive oil are all staples of the Mediterranean diet. Chicken, eggs, cheese, and milk are eaten at lower rates. 

Consume a great deal of brown rice and whole-wheat bread. lots of heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Eat a few servings of fish every week, with a focus on omega-3-fatty acid options. 

2)      Does Mediterranean diet increase longevity?

The Mediterranean diet is shown to increase the lifespan by a decade when adopted earlier in life. 

The effect of longevity is due to the wide variety of health advantages of the diet, including decreased inflammation effects and a lower rate of cardiovascular problems. 

3)      What are 5 negatives from the Mediterranean diet?

The potential negatives of the diet are:

1) It is high in fat (although it is healthy fat). Hence, it may not be suitable for consumption due to medical conditions. 

2) High in sodium. Not suitable for individuals with high blood pressure. 

3) High in calories. Portion size is important for losing weight. 

4) Expensive. Seafood, nuts and olive oil may be expensive. 

5) Not suitable for vegetarians. A major part of the diet consists of animal products. 

4)      What happens to your body when you eat a Mediterranean diet?

Various studies show that numerous positive health changes start to appear when you adhere to a Mediterranean diet.

Some of the effects are reduced inflammation, improved cardiovascular health, better blood sugar control, a lower risk of cognitive decline, and a healthier gut microbiome. 

5)      Do you lose weight on the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to help decrease weight. The reason for better weight loss management is due to the consumption of healthy fats, high fiber intake, and reduced processed food intake.

Although it is not a weight loss diet per se, it can help with weight loss in several ways. 


The bottom line is that the Mediterranean diet is not merely a diet but a lifestyle. It leads to a long and healthy life and, consequently, a better quality of life.

There is no one agreed-upon definition of the Mediterranean diet, although in general it involves eating a lot of fish and vegetables and less animal products.

It may aid in stabilizing blood sugar levels, promoting heart health, enhancing cognitive function, and maybe even more. The best part is that you can tailor the Mediterranean diet to your own needs and preferences. 


[1] Sofi, F., Cesari, F., Abbate, R., Gensini, G. F., & Casini, A. (2008). Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. Bmj, 337, a1344. Retrieved from

[2] "Seven Countries: A Multivariate Analysis of Death and Coronary Heart Disease", retrieved from

[3] Martinez-Gonzalez, M. A., Sanchez-Villegas, A., & Martinez, J. A. (2004). The benefits of the Mediterranean diet. British Journal of Nutrition, 92(S1), S5-S7. Retrieved from

[4] Schwingshackl, L. and Missbach, B. et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and risk of diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis, retrieved from

[5] Schwingshackl, L. and Hoffmann, G. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and risk of cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies, retrieved from

[6] Mancini, J. G., Filion, K. B., Atallah, R., & Eisenberg, M. J. (2016). Systematic Review of the Mediterranean Diet for Long-Term Weight Loss. The American Journal of Medicine, 129(4), 407–415.e4. 

[7] Trichopoulou, A., et al. (2003). Mediterranean diet and survival among patients with coronary heart disease in Greece. Archives of Internal Medicine, 163(5), 585-592. Retrieved from

[8] American Geriatrics Society Expert Panel on Post-Acute Care (2015). Post-acute care of the older patient after hospitalization for pneumonia: A statement of the American Geriatrics Society. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 63(3), 555-565. Retrieved from https://doi:10.1111/jgs.13366

About the author 

Salma is an experienced community pharmacist who's worked at multiple well-known pharmaceutical companies including Dynatis Limited and Medipak Limited

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