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Mediterranean Diet Food List: Benefits, Tips From Nutritionists – Women’s Health

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Ready for a meal plan that’s inspired by your dream European getaway? If so, look no further than the Mediterranean diet, which prioritizes whole foods, fresh produce, and nutrient-packed meals. Using a Mediterranean diet food list during your next grocery shopping trip is a healthy choice, but it’s also delicious—and it just might remind you of that one summer vacay in Greece.

The Mediterranean diet refers to the traditional eating habits among the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, per the American Heart Association (AHA). Since there are 16 countries in this region, there is no universal standard Mediterranean diet—and although there are a few basic principles, it’s not entirely restrictive. “The Mediterranean diet is a more flexible approach to eating than other diets,” says dietitian Cara Harbstreet, RD. “It even allows for moderate alcohol consumption, such as red wine.”

There are variety of cuisines and ingredients in the Mediterranean region, which means a ton of options. Need some ideas for your next grocery run? Here’s the ultimate Mediterranean diet food list you need—plus, the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet plan, according to dietitians.

Meet the experts: Cara Harbstreet, RD is a Kansas City-based registered dietitian and the owner of Street Smart Nutrition. Morgan Porpora, RD, is a nutritionist with Nutrition by Nathalie and a certified integrative health coach. Emily Kyle, RDN is a dietitian and author of Clean Eating Meal Prep.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet encourages healthy foods like beans and legumes, fruits, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, and fish or other seafood at least twice a week, says NYC-based nutritionist Morgan Porpora, RD. “This way of eating focuses heavily on a variety of nutrients that provide healthy fats like monounsaturated fats and omega-3s, fiber, phenolic antioxidants, and phytonutrients, which are all associated with improved health and reduced disease,” she says.

“The premise is avoiding over-processed, packaged foods and enjoying fresh, whole foods whenever possible,” adds Emily Kyle, RDN. “This simple approach makes the Mediterranean diet a bit easier to understand and, ultimately, implement in real life.” The good news is, you can still enjoy moderate amounts of cheese, eggs, poultry, yogurt, and even red wine on the diet plan. Cheers!

Mediterranean Diet Food List

Here’s exactly what to eat on the Mediterranean diet plan.

Fresh Produce

When it comes to the Mediterranean diet food list, any and all fresh fruits are a go, Kyle says. It is also okay to include frozen and canned fruits and vegetables with no added ingredients.

  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumbers
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Melon
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Parsnips
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips

Legumes, Nuts, And Seeds

Legumes, whole nuts, and seeds are a great addition to a Mediterranean diet.

  • Almonds
  • Barley
  • Black beans
  • Brown rice
  • Cashews
  • Chickpeas
  • Fava beans
  • Flaxseeds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Oats
  • Peas
  • Pinto beans
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts

Healthy Fats, Herbs, And Spices

  • Avocado oil
  • Avocados
  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Mint
  • Olives
  • Oregano
  • Nutmeg
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Walnut oil

Dairy

Moderate amounts of dairy items can be enjoyed on the Mediterranean diet. This can include foods like:

  • Cheese
  • Greek yogurt
  • Milk

Meat And Seafood

Moderate amounts of animal protein, like red meat, should be enjoyed in moderation on the Mediterranean diet. Opt for lean meats instead, or seafood options like wild-caught fish.

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Clams
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Trout
  • Tuna

Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most well-researched diets for the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, per Porpora. Here are some of the other health

1. It lowers lipids.

The Mediterranean Diet may have a lipid-lowering effect, according to a recent study. Since it is full of healthy fats, minimally processed foods, and fiber, it focuses on healthy fats like monounsaturated fats in olive oil and omega-3’s in fish, says Porpora. These types of fat are associated with fighting inflammation, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of heart disease, among other things.

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet is low in processed foods, refined grains, and sugar, all of which may contribute to high triglycerides (too much can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke). Instead, the diet is rich in beans, legumes, and whole grains, which are all excellent sources of dietary fiber and also support lowering cholesterol.

2. It may help balance the gut microbiome.

The composition of your diet has a huge impact on your gut microbiome, and fiber is a preferred food for our gut microbes, says Porpora. The abundance of fiber-rich foods in the Mediterranean diet means feeding those good gut microbes and increasing the diversity of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system.

These good microbes produce short-chain fatty acids, which can cut down on inflammation, support immunity, support our gut lining, regulate metabolism, and more. “Especially compared to a standard western diet, the composition of meals in a Mediterranean Diet is so much better for our gut,” Porpora says.

3. It may help with glycemic control and weight loss.

Since this diet is rich in fiber, healthy fats, low-glycemic foods, plants, and protein and is low in refined grains and sugar, meals are generally well-balanced and can help maintain blood sugar control. This may help with glycemic control and weight loss, according to Porpora.

The Mediterranean diet has been linked to improved markers of glycemic control, including fasting glucose, insulin, and hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c), per a 2021 review published in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Even without intentional calorie restriction, shifting the composition of a diet towards this pattern of eating often results in reduced central adiposity (weight around the belly) and weight loss, according to a recent study in the journal Nutrients.

4. It protects against inflammation and oxidative stress.

This dietary pattern incorporates an abundance of foods high in antioxidant vitamins, minerals, phenolic compounds, and phytonutrients that come from all of the fruits, olive oil, nuts and seeds, veggies, whole grains, and even the red wine that accompanies this lifestyle, says Porpora.

This large diversity of colors, foods, and nutrients is thought to have a synergistic effect to lower inflammation and fight oxidative stress. “By getting these two processes under control, we are able to function optimally, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and stay resilient in a world filled with so many stressors and micro-exposures to environmental toxins,” notes Porpora.

5. It reduces the risk of several types of cancers and prevents cognitive decline.

Strict adherence to a Mediterranean diet has been associated with reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, per a 2022 meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Nutrition. The diet could lower the risk of cancer mortality and the risk of bladder, colorectal, gastric, head and neck, liver, and respiratory cancers, per a 2021 review in the European Journal of Nutrition. Other studies have found that the diet is associated with reduced breast cancer risk.

6. The diet encourages sustainable, healthy habits.

“The wonderful thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it’s not really a ‘diet’ at all, but rather a style of eating,” says dietitian Harbstreet. “The wide variety of foods that comprise the Mediterranean diet leaves plenty of room for taste preferences, seasonal or local eating, and can help you eat in a way that feels authentic to you.”

Instead of focusing on weight loss, this approach supports healthy habits, like eating more fruits and vegetables, says Harbstreet. “Because of its flexible nature, there is more opportunity to adapt it to fit your individual lifestyle,” she says.

Lettermark

Christine Yu is an award-winning journalist and author of the book Up to Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes. Her work focuses on the intersection of sports science and women athletes. She’s a lifelong athlete who loves running, yoga, surfing, and skiing.

Headshot of Ashley Martens

Ashley Martens is a wellness writer based in Chicago. With a lifelong passion for all things health and wellness, Ashley enjoys writing about topics to help people live happier and healthier lives. With a foundation in fitness, food, and nutrition, Ashley covers it all including sexual health and travel topics. Ashley is also a NASM-certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor.

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