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What Is The Mediterranean Diet: A Meal Plan & Beginner’s Guide 2022

Blanca Garcia

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

Mediterranean Diet

Do you find yourself trying to find ways to eat healthily? With the infinite amount of diets out there, you can find one for any goal. Many people want a diet to lose weight or a diet beating belly fat, while some are looking for weight gain. Still, others are looking for a diet that promotes heart health or brain health. 

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), it’s possible to follow healthy diets that can help heart and brain health and contribute to weight loss. The Mediterranean and DASH diets, DASH is Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, are the two diets that align with AHA recommendations that have been proven to improve health[1].

Also, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), a person with diabetes will need to consume foods that control blood sugar levels, and guess what? All the foods in the Mediterranean Diet are included in their recommendations[2].

Check out the Mediterranean Diet, a diet attributed to improving eating habits, weight loss, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease. But even some of these changes can help control diabetes and high blood pressure. 

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is a diet followed by people of bordering countries of the Mediterranean Sea. The traditional Mediterranean diet often includes fresh seafood, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil. Because there are 21 different countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, The Mediterranean style diet varies, but all have similarities. 

Following The Mediterranean lifestyle may help in the primary prevention of chronic diseases, reduce the risk of obesity, and control blood sugar levels. 

What is fascinating about the Mediterranean Diet is that it’s not a structured diet; it’s more of a guideline for eating patterns. You can find that the Mediterranean Diets will often include a variety of vegetables and fruits that are eaten fresh along with whole grains, beans, legumes, low-fat dairy products, fish, and poultry. These Mediterranean-style diets will also limit highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks, saturated fats, deli meats, and meats. 

Mediterranean Diet Health Benefits

The Mediterranean Diet is most studied for its benefit to heart health[3]. Most commonly used foods are fresh foods, an abundance of plant foods, whole grains, limited consumption of highly processed foods, and avoidance of fried foods.

Proposed health benefits include the reduced risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, depression, diabetes, obesity, asthma, erectile dysfunction, and Alzheimer’s disease, a known disease of cognitive decline[4].  

Mediterranean Diet Food List

A  list of the most common foods in The Mediterranean Diet:

  • Brown rice
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Greek yogurt
  • Fatty fish
  • Lean proteins
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Red wine
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole grain pasta

This is not an exhaustive list but a place to start in the understanding of what The Mediterranean Diet looks like. Following a Mediterranean-style diet can be easy to follow once you understand how the diet works. 

How Does the Mediterranean Diet Work?

As mentioned before, there isn’t a set of rules that dictate how to follow the Mediterranean Diet. It is the flexibility to consume a varied diet of foods that contain healthy fats like those in olive oil and fatty fish. Making this a heart-healthy eating plan because of its type of foods. 

Olive oil, nuts, and seeds are a way to obtain monounsaturated fats, the healthy fats. Introducing monounsaturated fatty acids in the body is shown to help reduce bad cholesterol and help to lower the risk factors of heart disease[5].

Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, known to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower nasty triglycerides, and reduce other cardiovascular events like coronary heart disease or a heart attack[6]. Other good sources of omega-three fatty acids include nuts and seeds. 

It tends to be a low-fat diet and is mainly a plant-based diet. Of course, you will still get fat in The Mediterranean Diet, mainly from plant-based sources like olive oil and avocados. It also often includes foods with fewer calories; therefore, a shift to The Mediterranean Diet may help reduce unhealthy fats and lower cholesterol levels in the body. 

The Mediterranean Diet foods are all good, but it’s important to consider that the dietary patterns are just as important. Expecting to get all the amazing results, but only eating like this once a day won’t help; you need to be able to have an eating pattern that includes this lifestyle of eating consistently. 

How Easy is the Mediterranean Diet to Follow?

It’s very easy to follow; you can include healthy eating by using The Mediterranean Diet pyramid. It was created in the 1990s in collaboration with OldWays, a non-profit[7], The Harvard School of Public Health, and The World Health Organization (WHO). 

The Mediterranean Pyramid is a quick and easy visual that serves as a guide. The Mediterranean Diet, supplemented with physical activity and social interactions, makes it a wholesome diet. 

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

It comprises five levels, is still used today, and is a great way to identify what foods to choose more of and which to limit[8].

The First level (Base): Include physical activity and social interactions by enjoying meals with others.

The Second level: Contain foods that can be enjoyed daily like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, spices, herbs, and healthy fats like olive oil. 

The Third level Includes a source of animal protein through fish and seafood, to be enjoyed at least twice a week. 

The Fourth level: Dairy products, eggs, poultry, and wine to be consumed occasionally

The Fith level (top of the pyramid): Red meats, refined carbs, refined grains, sweets, and highly processed foods; are consumed less often. 

Foods to Eat

The idea is that you choose fresh foods daily, mainly plant foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, and plant-based fat like olive oil which is either virgin olive oil or extra virgin olive oil. There will be moments where you may want to eat animal-based foods, and those will typically be consumed in moderate amounts like greek yogurt, cheese, eggs, fish, seafood, and poultry. 

Foods to Limit

There are some foods that you may limit; it’s not a typical control diet. The advantage of following the Mediterranean Diet is that it does not control or restrict food types, quantities, or whole food groups. It just recommends focusing on certain foods less. For example, consume red meat, refined grains, refined sugars, and highly processed food items less often. 

Sample Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan

Want to know what a Mediterranean Diet meal plan can look like for a typical day? Check out this one-day sample. It includes a little of each level from the pyramid; the point is to be flexible in choices and allow yourself to choose according to frequency. 

Breakfast

  • One slice of whole-grain bread
  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter spread on the bread
  • A fresh fruit: Half banana sliced on top of the bread or a handful of strawberries
  • Black coffee or water

Snack

  • 6 oz of Greek yogurt with a fresh fruit

Lunch

  • 1 cup of whole-grain pasta 
  • ½ cup of cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cup of cooked spinach
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Drizzled olive oil

Snack

  • two whole-grain crackers
  • 2 oz of lean deli meats 

Dinner

  • 1/2 cup of brown rice
  • 1/2 cup of black beans, mixed with the rice
  • Sauteed asparagus with garlic and sliced almonds
  • A side of whole-grain pita bread to dip in olive oil
  • Olive oil dip recipe: 
  • ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons (tbsp) of balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tbsp. Dried crushed oregano
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Dessert

  • ½ cup of berries
  • ½ lime
  • Sprinkle of agave

Summary

When choosing a diet, always take into consideration if the diet is sustainable for the long term, is flexible enough for your lifestyle, and whether it benefits your body in more ways than one, not just weight loss. As Registered Dietitians (RD), we can safely recommend The Mediterranean Diet. According to the U.S News and World Report[9], it has been deemed the best overall diet for 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018. Also, in 2022 it was ranked as the best plant-based diet, best-heart healthy diet, best diet for healthy eating, best diabetes diet, and easiest diet to follow. It’s a type of diet that can be changed into a lifestyle that won’t cause harm to your body but will actually improve your body. 

To benefit from this diet, do you need to live in Mediterranean surroundings? Definitely not; you can buy these foods in your local grocery store, farmer’s market, or from your local farmer. And suppose you are not sure of how to incorporate these foods into your current medical conditions. In that case, you can always work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or RD specializing in clinical nutrition and is an expert on managing food intake according to medical conditions. 


+ 9 sources

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  1. Heart Attack and Stroke Symptoms. (2020). What is the Mediterranean Diet?. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/mediterranean-diet
  2. Alison B. Evert, Michelle Dennison, Christopher D. Gardner, W. Timothy Garvey, Ka Hei Karen Lau, Janice MacLeod, Joanna Mitri, Raquel F. Pereira, Kelly Rawlings, Shamera Robinson, Laura Saslow, Sacha Uelmen, Patricia B. Urbanski, William S. Yancy; Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report. Diabetes Care 1 May 2019; 42 (5): 731–754. https://doi.org/10.2337/dci19-0014
  3. Widmer, R. J., Flammer, A. J., Lerman, L. O., & Lerman, A. (2015). The Mediterranean diet, its components, and cardiovascular disease. The American journal of medicine, 128(3), 229–238. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.10.014
  4. Scarmeas, N., Stern, Y., Tang, M. X., Mayeux, R., & Luchsinger, J. A. (2006). Mediterranean diet and risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Annals of neurology, 59(6), 912–921. https://doi.org/10.1002/ana.20854
  5. Heart Attack and Stroke Symptoms. (2015). Monounsaturated Fat. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/monounsaturated-fats
  6. Kris-Etherton, P. M., Richter, C. K., Bowen, K. J., Skulas-Ray, A. C., Jackson, K. H., Petersen, K. S., & Harris, W. S. (2019). Recent Clinical Trials Shed New Light on the Cardiovascular Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Methodist DeBakey cardiovascular journal, 15(3), 171–178. https://doi.org/10.14797/mdcj-15-3-171
  7. Oldways. (n.d). Mediterranean Diet. Available at: https://oldwayspt.org/traditional-diets/mediterranean-diet.
  8. Oldways. (n.d). Oldways Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Available at: https://oldwayspt.org/resources/oldways-mediterranean-diet-pyramid.
  9. U.S.News (2022). Best Diets Overall 2022. Available at: https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diets-overall?int=top_nav_Best_Diets_Overall
Blanca Garcia

Written by:

Blanca Garcia, RDN

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Blanca is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and freelance nutrition writer from Los Angeles, CA. She has more than 8 year’s experience in nutrition and dietetics. She is a Latina and enjoys traditional Mexican and Salvadoran cooking, eating flavorful meals and sharing her knowledge about food and nutrition with others through her writing.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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