What Is the Mediterranean Diet and What Can You Eat On It?




For several years, the Mediterranean diet has been ranked the No. 1 diet by U.S. News and World Report, winning praise from experts for its proven health benefits—particularly heart health—and potential for long-term lifestyle change.

"there are decades of great research on the Mediterranean diet and numerous health benefits have been reported over this time," shares Megan Hilbert, MS, RDN, of Top Nutrition Coaching.

Bonus: While many diets are restrictive, making certain food groups off-limits, following a Mediterranean eating plan allows individuals to eat various foods and doesn't encourage calorie restriction. Often associated with olive oil and salmon, this  diet that embraces many different kinds of foods while providing a shortlist of foods to avoid eating on a daily basis.

You’ve probably heard your friends and family or maybe even your doctor talk about the Mediterranean diet. Whether your goal for changing the way you eat is lowering blood pressure, increasing energy or losing weight, here is what you need to know about adopting a Mediterranean diet, including what you can eat on it, recipes, snack ideas and more.

Related: ‘I'm a Cardiologist and This Is the Vegetable I Eat Almost Every Day for Heart Health’

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

It's more of a meal plan than a traditional diet. "The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern that focuses on including foods from the Mediterranean area and is considered one of the healthiest ways to eat," says Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD, a registered dietitian.

Quick geography lesson: The name of the diet refers to its origin in the Mediterranean Basin or the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Historically, this is an area of the world that has been associated with certain patterns of eating, which includes fish, bread, wine, and oil, and very little meat, according to the Iranian Journal of Public Health. While different eating patterns emerged, this basic diet of bread, wine, and oil spread throughout Europe thanks to its adoption by Christian monks.

"Eating these foods benefits most people, and what I love is that you don’t necessarily have to eat foods specific to the Mediterranean to reap the benefits," Sauceda says. "Whatever seafood, nuts/seeds, etc that is available and you have access to is the best way to approach this way of eating."

Indeed, this diet has evolved to include fruits and vegetables as significant components. Even though it has ancient roots, it became the subject of research in the second half of the 20th century when Ancel Keys conducted a famous study of health habits and cardiovascular health on all seven continents.

Related: The One Habit That Can Lower Your Blood Pressure Overnight, According to a Cardiologist

What Are the Benefits Of a Mediterranean Diet?

For some time, the most well-known health benefit of following a Mediterranean diet is reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, but new research has emerged showing that this plan benefits the whole body.

In 2015, researchers conducted an extensive study involving 7,447 individuals considered to be at high risk for cardiovascular disease, according to Progress in Cardiovascular DiseasesThose who adopted a Mediterranean diet with either the addition of extra nuts or extra-virgin olive oil experienced fewer cardiovascular events over the course of the study when compared to their cohorts.

Additionally, the participants who adopted this diet were observed to have lower blood pressure, reduced insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation and reduced oxidative stress.

Other research has since emerged, including a review of 16 studies showing women who closely followed the Mediterranean diet had lower heart disease risks than those who did not.

Besides cardiovascular disease risk reduction, research has shown the Mediterranean diet could help:

Is the Mediterranean Diet Good for Weight Loss?

The primary goal of the Mediterranean diet is to benefit the entire body, not a number on the scale. However, the Mediterranean diet is a fantastic foundational eating plan, so if you use it as a starting point and then keep an eye on your overall calorie intake, it can be an excellent way to lose weight.

"While the Mediterranean diet is not specifically designed for weight loss, its principles can naturally lead to a lower calorie intake and healthier metabolism, both of which are crucial for weight loss and maintenance," Hilbert says. "High fiber, healthy fats, low levels of processed foods and added sugars and benefits to the microbiome all can lead to slimmer waistlines and improved metabolic health as well as improved portion control."

Perhaps most importantly?

"The diet’s focus on enjoyable meals and social eating helps make these healthier eating habits a more pleasurable and permanent part of one's lifestyle," Hilbert says.

Is the Mediterranean Diet Safe?

Generally speaking, The Mediterranean diet is safe. While some diets encourage restriction of calories or prohibit certain foods, this isn’t the case with the Mediterranean diet. Instead, it is a fairly well-rounded nutritional plan that is safe because of how it approaches healthy eating. Low calorie intake or extreme restriction can put individuals at risk for disordered eating patterns. The great thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it is generally focused on what you can eat, not what you can't eat. It also doesn’t require you to eat very little or count calories.

"For most people, this way of eating can work well because there aren’t any counting, measuring, or unnecessary restrictions that can make eating this way too difficult to stick with," Sauceda says. "On top of that, there is flexibility with the foods, making it easier to also eat out when following a Mediterranean diet."

Additionally, this diet includes foods known to be associated with heart health. While a diet like keto encourages increased intake of fat, this is a diet that embraces all food groups in moderation but limits saturated fats, meats, and processed grains.

Sauceda does caution that some people may be allergic to certain hallmark foods on the diet, like nuts.

The only risk worth noting is associated with an increased intake of wine. Even though red wine is embraced by proponents of the Mediterranean diet, it generally isn’t recommended that people increase their alcohol intake to improve their health. While many people might be able to safely navigate the addition of a daily glass of wine, others may not be able to practice moderation, as pointed out in a 2022-published Nature study.

What Are the Best Foods for a Mediterranean Diet Plan?

Fruits and vegetables

Produce is central to any healthy diet, so it is no surprise that this eating plan encourages plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Whole grains

Carb lovers, we have good news for you. Grains like rice, pasta, oatmeal, and whole-grain bread are part of daily eating.

Healthy fats

Olive oil is an iconic part of this diet because it is an unsaturated fat. It is encouraged in place of butter or other saturated fats. Nuts are another source of healthy fat encouraged on the Mediterranean diet.


This diet is limited in meat but encourages seafood twice a week as a source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

Red wine

Followers of the Mediterranean diet allow for moderate alcohol consumption but should proceed with caution.


As a diet that emphasizes treating plants as a significant source of nutrients and calories, it may not be surprising that legumes are a big part of following the Mediterranean way of eating. Lentils, cannellini beans, and garbanzo beans are all great additions to your shopping cart.

Related: 7 Things That Happen When You Don't Eat Veggies

Your Mediterranean Diet Grocery List

Looking for something more specific? Here's a partial list of staple foods on the Mediterranean diet to get you started.

  • Eggs

  • Chicken

  • Sardines

  • Cod

  • Shrimp

  • Olive oil

  • Tomatoes

  • Lentils

  • White beans

  • Whole-grain bread

  • Pita bread

  • Couscous

  • Olives

  • Pistachios

  • Almonds

  • Walnuts

  • Yogurt

  • Hummus

  • Cantaloupe

  • Lemons

  • Figs

  • Oranges

  • Spinach

  • Zucchini

  • Eggplant

  • Onions

  • Green beans

  • Cauliflower

  • Honey

  • Feta cheese

Hungry for more ideas? Check out our Mediterranean Diet food list featuring 110 foods.

What Are Some Mediterranean Diet Recipes?

When it comes to the recommended foods to eat while on this diet, a good white bean or minestrone soup checks nearly all the boxes. Kale White Bean Soup includes lean protein from legumes and plenty of vegetables. Sub out the coconut oil for olive oil, and you’ve adapted it into a Mediterranean diet-approved meal.

A quick and easy recipe like Crunchy Hummus-Crusted Fish with Roasted Broccoli and Olives is just about as good as it gets when on the hunt for heart-healthy meals that you can make in half an hour. Salads can be jazzed up with fresh vegetables, an olive oil dressing, and beans. Eating fish at least twice a week doesn't have to be boring. Bookmark plenty of inventive recipes, like these Cashew-Crusted Salmon Skewers.

What Are the Best Mediterranean Diet Snacks?

The great thing about snacks on this diet is that they can be fairly simple. Keep roasted nuts on hand, and you’ll always have an option you feel great about. Another simple option is whole grain bread with a little nut butter or mashed avocados.

Snack time is also a good time to increase your veggie intake, keep hummus on hand, and cut up some fresh vegetables on the weekends to snack on all week.

What Are the Best Mediterranean Diet Breakfasts?

Breakfast on the Mediterranean diet is likely going to feel like a step away from traditional, American breakfasts. Eggs are encouraged on this eating plan, but only a few times a week. Other options include oatmeal topped with nuts, nut butters, or fruit. Greek yogurt also makes for a great breakfast that provides lean protein and can be sweetened with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.

What Are the Best Mediterranean Diet Desserts?

Generally, the Mediterranean diet is a low-sugar diet. Processed carbs and sweets aren’t encouraged as part of everyday eating. That being said, there is definitely room for nutritious desserts. Think goat cheese-stuffed fig and apples sprinkled with cinnamon.

"Fruits such as berries, apples, pears, oranges, figs, dates, peaches, pears, pomegranates, and grapes are high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants," Hilbert says. "They are often eaten as desserts or snacks."

What Foods Should You Avoid On a Mediterranean Diet?

Regular consumption of red meat is discouraged on the Mediterranean diet, but not prohibited. Generally, it is recommended that red meat be reserved as the occasional treat. Additionally, processed carbohydrates and saturated fats are not a part of daily eating when following the Mediterranean diet.

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  • Iranian Journal of Public Health: "The Mediterranean Diet: A History of Health"

  • Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases: "Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Insights From the PREDIMED Study"

  • Megan Hilbert, MS, RDN, of Top Nutrition Coaching

  • Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD, a registered dietitian

  • Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in women with a Mediterranean diet: systematic review and meta-analysis. Heart.

  • Mediterranean diet adherence is associated with lower dementia risk, independent of genetic predisposition: findings from the UK Biobank prospective cohort study. BMC Medicine.

  • Mediterranean Diet on Sleep: A Health Alliance. Nutrients.

  • The anti-inflammatory effects of a Mediterranean diet: a review, Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition.

  • Plasma Micronutrient Profile of Prostate Cancer Cases Is Altered Relative to Healthy Controls—Results of a Pilot Study in South Australia. Cancers.

  • Healthy Eating Patterns and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine.

  • The Effects of the Mediterranean Diet on Health and Gut Microbiota. Nutrients.

  • The effects of modest drinking on life expectancy and mortality risks: a population-based cohort study. Nature.