Mediterranean Diet Explained

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet depends on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea (Italy France, Spain, and Greece) back in 1960. Mediterranean diet varies by country and region because of differences in culture, ethnic background, religion, economy, geography, and agricultural production.

However, the Mediterranean diet has a food list based on some basic principles: it is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, cereals, grains, nuts, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods. Ranked number one in best diets overall by U.S News’s team in 2020, the Mediterranean diet is one of the safest and effective diets.

Bowl of fresh salad with some slices of chicken

Origin of Mediterranean Diet

Inspired by the Cretan, Greek and Italian eating patterns the theory of Mediterranean diet was proposed in 1960. The very first written description of Mediterranean diet was published as a result of an analysis conducted in 1953 that was sponsored by a New York based Rockefeller Foundation. However, in 1975 Ancel Keys and chemist Margaret accepted all the interpretations and publicly reported the Mediterranean diet.

History and Modernization of the Mediterranean Diet

Rather than the publications and reporting, the Mediterranean diet did not get much attention till 1990s. However, with the advancement of time this diet became the number one approved healthiest diet for the prevention of adverse health conditions. An epidemiological research study was administered in Nepal and Madrid that presented the objective data evident for the beneficial effects of Mediterranean diet.

The study was later approved by the Seven Countries Study and got published in 1970 whereas in 1980 a full fledge book-length report was published on this research. According to the U.S. News and World Report’s diet rankings, the Mediterranean diet has graded as the foremost diet for 3 consecutive years.

They proved that the Mediterranean diet followers live longer and healthier lives as they enjoy a variety of natural foods and have a specific eating pattern. World Health Organization recognized this diet to be an intangible cultural asset and a more sustaining dietary pattern.

The Mediterranean diet is majorly recognized and followed as a trend in the regions along the boundaries of the Mediterranean Sea. The zones like Greece, France, Spain, and Italy have adopted the Mediterranean diet as their staple food and have altered their meals as per the traditions.

What are the benefits of the Mediterranean diet?

A good diet should be sustainable on the long run. The Mediterranean diet is a nonrestrictive diet that offers flexibility and facilitates an easy meal prep. The large range of foods to choose from avoid eating boredom and make the diet suitable for nearly anyone. The products to use in recipes are easy to find either in a local market or in a grocery store which make it a non expensive and easy to follow diet. Here are some extra benefits of the Mediterranean diet:

  • Prevent heart diseases
  • Reduce the risk of cancers
  • Protect against diabetes
  • Protect against cognitive decline
  • Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Nonrestrictive and allows a large variety of foods
  • Easy meal prepping

Mediterranean Diet Meal ideas

A typical Mediterranean meal contains all three essential macronutrients but should also be tasty. For the ones who struggle with meal prep here are some easy-to-make recipe ideas: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

7-day Mediterranean diet recipes eBook cover
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What to eat on the Mediterranean diet? Mediterranean food list.

Carbohydrates are allowed but the Mediterranean diet focuses on eating unrefined carbs from whole grain products and starchy foods. It is recommended to choose foods like whole bread or oats over white bread and pastries. This is not a low-carb diet and may consist of more than 45% of carbohydrates.

Protein represents roughly 20% of calorie intake and comes from various sources, animal products, and plant-based products. Some meats are more suitable than others and fatty meat should represent only a small amount of meat consumption. A large portion comes from Vegetarian protein sources.

The Mediterranean diet is high in fat especially healthy fats that can be found in unrefined oils, fatty fishes, seafood, and nuts. Fat can represent around 35% of the daily recommended calorie intake.

As a non-restrictive diet, the Mediterranean food list may vary from a person to another. It is not rare to find people combining it with other diets, for example, the Mediterranean paleo diet or the Mediterranean vegetarian diet.

Most common foods on the Mediterranean diet

Plant-based foods and seafood are favored and represent the majority of food consumption. The Mediterranean diet food list contains a wide choice of foods. You can eat legumes, grains, vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, nuts, seafood, and seeds as much as you want.

Animal products are not excluded but eat skinless poultry and dairy products moderately. Eat rarely non-healthy deep-fried foods and other fatty meats like lard or just exclude when necessary.

Here is a nonextensive Mediterranean diet food list to use to make the best recipes.

Legumes, veggies, fruits, pulsesSpinach, artichoke, kale, cabbage, carrot, zucchini, broccoli, pineapple, berries, apple, peach, grapes, the melon family (cantaloupe, Galia,
Persian, date, casaba, watermelon), citrus fruits, apricots, banana, mango, papaya, pomelo, kiwi, fig, pomegranate seeds, starfruit (carambola),
mango, peach, pear, peas, beans
Meat, poultry & seafoodEgg, eggs white and whey, fatty fish, various fresh seafood, skinless chicken, skinless turkey, lean pork, other lean white meat, non-fatty red meat
Herbs & spicesOnion, back pepper, thyme, basil, bay leaf, cilantro, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, lavender, marjoram, chili pepper, mint, cinnamon, oregano, parsley, rosemary, ginger, saffron, red bell pepper, sage, savory, turmeric, tarragon.
Nuts & seeds & grainsAlmonds, pecans, hazelnuts, peanuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts, barley, pearl or hulled, buckwheat groats, farro, freekeh, Kamut (Khorasan wheat), spelt berries, wheat kernels
Dairy productsMilk, soured cream, cottage cheese, other natural cheese, greek yogurt
Mediterranean diet food list

Balsamic vinegar and many unsaturated oils like avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil are used to prepare the recipes and homemade dressing. Some of these best oils can be found online on websites like GRUNDY MD or life extension.

Bread is also a widespread and versatile food that is widely consumed on the Mediterranean diet.

  • whole-grain bread
  • flatbread
  • whole-grain pita bread
  • pita bread pizza
  • olive bread

Best beverages for the Mediterranean diet

We do not have to stick only to water for healthy beverages. Avoiding high sugary beverages is important and it is possible to consume unsweetened drinks or to use a few amounts of honey and agave syrup to have a slightly sweet beverage.

  • Ginger + Cinnamon + honey
  • Fresh mint + lime + honey or agave syrup
  • Teas like echinacea tea, green tea
  • Other teas and green juice
  • Decaffeinated coffee
  • Hot chocolate
  • Smoothie

What food to avoid on the Mediterranean diet?

It is better to avoid these types of food since they can lead to weight gain and various health issues.

Food made from refined grains: White bread, rice, pizza, pasta made with refined wheat (white flour)

Added sugar: Soda, ice cream, pastries, candies, table sugar, and food rich in refined sugar

Trans fats: Found in margarine and different processed foods

Processed meat: Processed sausages, meat, hot dogs, and any high processed meat

Highly processed foods: Low-fat or die labeled stuff or which seems like it was made in a factory

Does the Mediterranean diet include exercising?

Yes, exercising while on the Mediterranean diet can give better results: level of fitness, better body shape, induce calorie deficit for weight loss, disease prevention. The types of workout may vary depending on your goal:

  • endurance training
  • interval training workouts
  • high-intensity workout
  • cross-training program

No need to exercise every day but instead schedule 3 t 5 days of workouts that include proper recovery.

Why I should be on the Mediterranean diet?

  • No calorie counting
  • Menu is huge
  • Fresh food
  • Bread is allowed
  • Fat is allowed
  • You can use spices-the spices are delicious
  • Easy to make or cook
  • You can have wine
  • You will not be hungry
  • You can lose weight
  • It’s good for your heart-the heart will thank you
  • It’s good for your brain-you’ll stay sharper

Dietary alterations are usually overly complex but if you are moving towards the Mediterranean diet then it will not be the case. The Mediterranean diet is not restrictive and allows a variety of foods. This flexibility and health benefits are probably the main reasons why it was adopted by various cultures and regions.


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