The Mediterranean diet is often touted as one of the healthiest ways of eating. Many studies have examined the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, confirming its ability to help individuals lose weight, reduce the risk of stroke, reduce LDL cholesterol, improve blood glucose control, improve symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome, and improve numerous other health markers. The Mediterranean diet first became popular in the US in the 1990s, after researchers discovered that people in countries bordering the Mediterranean sea were often healthier than most Americans and had a lower risk of many diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

Characteristics of the Mediterranean diet

There is no one definitive way to follow the Mediterranean diet. Many countries in the region follow some version of a traditional diet, but may eat different foods depending on what is locally grown. In short, the Mediterranean diet is based on whole, unprocessed foods, and is high in plant foods. The general guidelines listed below can be modified to a certain degree to accommodate individual dietary needs or preferences.

Mediterranean diet guidelines

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and seafood
  • Eat healthy fats, such as olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
  • Eat animal products in moderation. Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt can be eaten occasionally.
  • Eat red meat only rarely.
  • Drink plenty of water. Wine is also allowed in moderation.
  • Avoid sugar, soda and other sweetened beverages, artificial ingredients, trans fats, processed meats, refined grains, and other processed foods.

Foods you can eat on a Mediterranean diet

  • Vegetables and greens: Spinach, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, onions, carrots, cucumbers, etc.
  • Legumes: beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
  • Fruits: bananas, apples, oranges, berries, pears, peaches, melons, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
  • Whole grains: Brown rice, oats, whole wheat, barley, rye, corn, quinoa, etc.
  • Fish and seafood: Salmon, trout, tuna, shrimp, oysters, lobster, crab, etc.
  • Poultry: Chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Dairy: Greek yogurt, cheese
  • Eggs
  • Healthy fats: olive oil, olives, avocados

Foods to avoid

  • Added sugars
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Refined grains, such as white bread or refined pasta
  • Refined oils, including commonly used vegetable oils such as soybean oil and canola oil
  • Trans fats, which are found in many processed foods, including margarine
  • Processed meats, such as hot dogs
  • Other processed foods

A good general guideline is to avoid foods with ingredients that you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce, foods with a long shelf life, and any foods labeled “low fat.” Foods that make health food claims on the label are typically not actually healthy. The healthiest foods are those that don’t even have labels, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

7 easy ways to start following the Mediterranean diet

  1. Replace margarine and vegetable oils with healthy fats, such as olive oil. Olive oil seasoned with spices is delicious for dipping bread. For cooking, try grapeseed oil, which has a higher smoke point and can be used at high heats.
  2. Rethink your protein. If you’re used to eating a lot of red meat, try eating more fish and seafood.
  3. Flip your portions. Many people make meat the focus of a meal and have a small serving of vegetables on the side. Instead, put the focus on your vegetables, and have at least two different vegetables in every meal. Eat a variety of differently colored vegetables to make sure you’re getting a wide array of essential vitamins and nutrients.
  4. Snack on nuts and vegetables. If you get hungry between meals, try some vegetables with hummus, or snack on nuts. Nuts are a good source of healthy fats, which will help you feel full, and are packed with powerful antioxidants.
  5. Be creative with salads. A big salad is a great way to get lots of greens and veggies into a meal. Try incorporating different greens, like arugula and radicchio. Experiment with different veggies, and add nuts and seeds such as slivered almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds. Top your salads off with olive oil and balsamic vinegar rather than store-bought salad dressings, which are often loaded with unhealthy ingredients.
  6. Serve fruit for dessert. Fresh fruit is an excellent source of important vitamins and antioxidants, and can be a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you’re used to eating a lot of refined sugar, give yourself some time for your taste buds to reset. Eventually you might be surprised to find how delicious and satisfying fruit can be for dessert.
  7. If you drink alcohol, choose wine, and limit yourself to one or two glasses with a meal. Red wine in particular contains resveratrol, a type of plant compound that offers numerous benefits and may even help with weight loss.

While a Mediterranean diet is a healthy way of eating for anyone, some people are genetically predisposed to benefit even more from a Mediterranean diet. Hundreds of different genetic variants determine how your body responds to different foods, and also influence metabolic factors that may put you at an increased risk of health conditions such as elevated cholesterol and elevated blood sugar. Vivaliti DNA analyzes more than 80 different genetic markers to determine your ideal diet type, allowing you to finally put an end to trial-and-error diet plans and yo-yo dieting. Request a no-cost consultation with a Vivaliti health coach today to learn how your individual genetic report can help you meet your health and wellness goals!