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Mediterranean Diet: Food List, Tips and 7-Day Meal Plan – Good Housekeeping

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There are many reasons to try the popular Mediterranean diet — and one of them is that the foods are incredibly delicious and versatile. The U.S. News & World Report ranks it as the number-one diet, based on their panel of medical and nutrition experts, and a half century of nutrition research agrees that this way of eating offers tremendous health benefits. Millions have found that the Mediterranean diet manages to make healthy eating enjoyable and satisfying.

The Mediterranean diet pinpoints healthy, anti-inflammatory foods and no major food groups are off limits. It’s worth noting that two of the five Blue Zones of the world where people live the longest are Ikaria, an island in Greece and Sardinia, an island in Italy. “Interestingly, even though we call it the Mediterranean way of eating, similar dietary patterns can be found all over the world among some of the longest living people,” says Michael Crupain, MD, MPH, author of the cookbook The Power Five and a faculty member at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Keep reading for more info about how to follow the diet, including a full Mediterranean diet food list and a sample 7-day, easy-to-follow plan.

Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to go on this diet, we invite you to gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean way of eating is inspired by the traditional cuisines of Greece, Spain, Italy and France, among others. “It’s focused on eating mostly five groups of foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and seeds, and fish,” says Dr. Crupain.

The approach supplies tons of antioxidants, and includes a range of aromatic herbs and spices. You can enjoy moderate amounts of dairy and eggs as well as poultry, and red meat can be incorporated in smaller amounts (from sources like beef and goat). And red wine is fine to drink in moderation.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on the quality of the food and, unlike other diets, is more of a way of eating and a lifestyle approach rather than a restrictive diet. Moderation is key with this plan, but you won’t have to drop a food group. And for many people, it’s exactly that flexibility that appeals!

Mediterranean diet health benefits

“Numerous studies have looked at the health benefits of the Mediterranean style of eating and consistently found that it’s associated with lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and events like heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Crupain. The eating style first became buzzy after in 2013, after a team at the University of Barcelona studied more than 7,000 people and found that their heart health drastically improved after adopting the diet. Since then, the scientific evidence of the diet’s effectiveness has piled up, including improved cognition. Some of the incredible benefits of the Mediterranean diet include that it can:

  • Improve cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Optimize brain function
  • Help ward off anxiety and depression
  • Defend against chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers
  • Improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Support improved fertility
  • Promote healthy digestion
  • Improve vision and eye health
  • Support healthy skin and combat premature signs of aging
  • Assist in weight management
  • Promote longevity

Risks to following a Mediterranean diet

There are few downsides to following the Mediterranean diet: It’s most likely fine for almost anyone to start, but it’s still a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before any drastic change in your diet. That said, the diet may not provide enough calcium and iron since it doesn’t place a huge emphasis on dairy products and red meat.

Following some recipes and meals on the diet can take a bit of time to prepare, and certain ingredients can be costly, like some types of produce, seafood and high-quality olive oil. It’s important to follow the recommendation of drinking wine only in moderation, given the many risk of excessive alcohol consumption. And since the diet doesn’t have strict guidelines or portion sizes to follow, it’s also important to practice moderation in that area as well.

A complete food list for the Mediterranean diet

mediterranean salad with greens and seeds in a blue bowl

JulPo//Getty Images

A Mediterranean kitchen is packed with fresh produce, lean proteins, seafood and healthy fats. Here are some delicious ingredients that you might find useful when stocking your kitchen to add Mediterranean flavor to every meal.

Produce

A strong foundation of the Mediterranean diet are plant-based foods like vegetables and fruits. They offer a hefty dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and more which makes them nutrient-dense choices, since they have a high amount of nutrients for a relatively low amount of calories. Plus, research has shown that eating more fruits and vegetables can prevent chronic disease and promote longevity. Even so, only about 10% of Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables — another reason to consider eating the Mediterranean way!

Aim for at least 5 servings a day of produce daily, or about 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables. A serving of vegetables is ½ cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw ones. A serving of fruit is about 1 medium sized piece of whole fruit or 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned. Some of the best nutrient-dense fruits include berries, apples, peaches and pears.

Many people wonder whether you can eat potatoes on the Mediterranean diet. It’s recommended by experts that you prioritize non-starchy vegetables like dark leafy greens, bell peppers and broccoli among others. But you can definitely enjoy starchy options like potatoes in moderation on a Mediterranean diet.

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Artichokes
  • Arugula
  • Avocado
  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Clementines
  • Cucumber
  • Dandelion greens
  • Dates
  • Eggplant
  • Figs
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Lemons
  • Melons
  • Mushrooms
  • Mustard greens
  • Nectarines
  • Okra
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Pomegranates
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Radishes
  • Scallions
  • Shallots
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Tangerines
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini

Legumes, Nuts & Grains

The foods in this category of Mediterranean are nutrient-dense choices and can pack in a ton of fiber and plant-based protein. Aim to include at least one legume, nut or grain (or all three!) in each meal while following the diet.

Eating more whole grains is emphasized in most Mediterranean meals, and this is linked to a lower risk for chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Even though Americans these days are eating more whole grains, it’s still not enough; research shows that less than 16% of total grain intake per day comes from whole grains. An ideal amount to eat each day is a minimum of three servings, which can include a slice of whole grain bread or a half cup of cooked oatmeal, whole grain pasta or brown rice. Try swapping white pasta and white rice for whole grain sides instead like quinoa, bulgar, wheat berries and more, and having oatmeal for breakfast — a simple way to add whole grains to your day, and a bonus if you top them with berries, bananas or other fruit!

chana dall

SGAPhoto//Getty Images

Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds provide protein, fiber, healthy fats, flavor and more to Mediterranean dishes. Popular worldwide, they’ve been eaten for at least 10,000 years. Regular consumption of legumes have been shown to improve cholesterol levels and blood pressure while also reducing inflammatory markers in the body. Beans and lentils can be a great protein source to add to grain bowls, veggie dishes and more. Nuts and seeds make for a great Mediterranean healthy snack, just look for options that are unsalted or low in sodium. Some of the healthiest nuts include walnuts (also good for brain health), almonds and pistachios.

  • Almonds
  • Beans (cannellini, chickpeas, fava, green, kidney and navy)
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Couscous
  • Farro
  • Lentils (red, yellow and green)
  • Oats
  • Orzo
  • Pine nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Quinoa
  • Walnuts
  • Wheat berries
  • Yellow split peas

Herbs, Spices and Condiments

Herbs and spices are nature’s flavor bombs and are some of the reasons why Mediterranean meals taste delicious and smell incredible. These foods add great flavor and dimension to meals, and are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Utilizing more herbs and spices in your cooking can help you cut down the sodium in meals as well without sacrificing flavor.

High-quality olive oil from the Mediterranean is an important part of cooking in these regions. Look for single origin 100% olive oil and opt for ones sold in tinted or opaque bottles or cans to protect the oil from the light, which can help it stay fresher longer. (Another good tip: Always be sure to store oil in a cool and dry place.) Vinegar, which contains polyphenols, is another important item to have in your Mediterranean pantry, as it can help balance out dressings and many dishes.

  • Anise
  • Basil
  • Bay leaves
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Cumin
  • Dill weed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlic powder
  • Mint
  • Nutmeg
  • Olive oil
  • Onion powder
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Sesame seeds and tahini
  • Smoked paprika
  • Sumac
  • Thyme
  • Vinegar: apple cider, balsamic and red wine varieties
  • Za’atar

Dairy & Cheese (in moderation)

It’s true that cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean, but it’s typically in small amounts and in moderation. They do provide a ton of nutrition including calcium, protein and more. But certain varieties can be high in saturated fat, so our experts recommend prioritizing low fat and non fat options when possible.

  • Feta
  • Greek yogurt
  • Goat cheese
  • Halloumi
  • Manchego
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Pecorino
  • Ricotta

Meat & Seafood (in moderation)

Fish tends to be the preferred healthy protein source for many Mediterranean populations, and the dishes are typically grilled or baked instead of fried. Research suggests that regular fish consumption can reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s and several other chronic diseases. Many of the disease-fighting benefits of fish come from its heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which have been linked to improved cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammation and even blood clotting.

Meat is eaten in the Mediterranean and is full of bioavailable nutrients like vitamin B12 and complete protein, but again, it’s usually consumed in small portions, and leaner cuts are prioritized. That’s important, because meat can be high in saturated fat, which is known to increase levels of cholesterol in the blood. Poultry is popular as it is a lean protein source, making options like chicken a staple on many Mediterranean menus.

  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Red meat (sparingly, mostly beef, goat and lamb)
  • Octopus
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Tuna

Tips

The Mediterranean diet is fairly easy to follow and has a lot going for it, from its health benefits to its delicious food choices. These practical tips can help you stick to the eating style over the long term too:

Dining out

If you’re heading to a Mediterranean restaurant, chances are they will have plenty of appropriate options for you to choose from. Here are a few tips for when you’re dining out:

  • Start with a salad
  • Choose fish or seafood as your main
  • Request extra veggies on the side
  • Opt for non-starchy vegetables like dark leafy greens
  • Ask for whole grain bread or pita instead of white varieties
  • Use olive oil instead of butter
  • Stay hydrated with water or sparkling water throughout your meal
  • Go for a walk after dinner with whomever you’re dining with

Sample 7-day meal plan

Our simple, nutritionist-approved one-week Mediterranean Diet plan is perfect for easing into the lifestyle and making it practical for you.

Looking for more recipes and meal plan inspiration? Check out Good Housekeeping‘s bestselling 28-day Mediterranean Diet meal plan that features step-by-step instructions, curated recipes, journaling and every tip you need to prep your kitchen for success.

The 28-Day Mediterranean Diet

The 28-Day Mediterranean Diet

The 28-Day Mediterranean Diet


Why trust Good Housekeeping?

As deputy nutrition director of the Good Housekeeping Institute, registered dietitian Stefani Sassos handles all nutrition-related content, evaluation and product testing for the brand. Stefani is dedicated to evidence-based diet and nutrition reporting. She takes the pulse of the latest nutrition research and trends, translating to readers what principles are science-backed and worth incorporating into a healthy lifestyle (and what fads are worth avoiding). Growing up in a Greek-American family, Mediterranean foods were (and still are!) at the forefront of all her family meals and traditions.

Headshot of Stefani Sassos, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., NASM-CPT

Stefani (she/her) is a registered dietitian, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab, where she handles all nutrition-related content, testing and evaluation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from NYU. She is also Good Housekeeping’s on-staff fitness and exercise expert. Stefani is dedicated to providing readers with evidence-based content to encourage informed food choices and healthy living. She is an avid CrossFitter and a passionate home cook who loves spending time with her big fit Greek family.

Headshot of Laura Iu, R.D., C.D.N.

Laura Iu, R.D., is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified intuitive eating counselor, yoga guide, and owner of Laura Iu Nutrition, a private practice in New York City. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from New York University and completed her internship in dietetics at Weill Cornell & Columbia Medical Center of New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She went on to work in New York City’s top hospitals, including Mount Sinai Hospital and NYU Langone Health. She believes that true health is all encompassing — physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing — not an external measure via shape or size.

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