From olives to red wine, there are a lot of great options to choose from.
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The Mediterranean diet plan continues to be celebrated by nutritionists because it offers tons of health benefits. It’s also easy to follow and not very restrictive. After all, what’s not to like about a diet that lets you drink a little red wine? A nice added bonus: it's consistently ranked the best diet overall by the U.S. News and World Reports.
Plant-based foods are the focus on the Mediterranean diet, which is based on the eating habits of early 1960s Greece and Southern Italy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, nuts and olive oil, and limits sweets, red meat and processed foods.
Research shows that the Mediterranean diet helps reduce “bad” cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attack. It also helps reduce instances of obesity.
Not sure which foods you can eat on the diet? The good news is that, unlike with other diets, the Mediterranean diet has few restrictions. It’s more of a healthy eating lifestyle that allows you to enjoy many of your favorites. Check out this Mediterranean diet food list below to help you plan your meals—and trust us, they'll be delicious.
Mediterranean Diet Fish and Seafood
Fish, especially varieties rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is a main protein source under the Mediterranean diet—just don’t batter and fry it. The goal is three, 3- to 4-ounce servings per week.
Tuna. Canned or fresh, add it to salads or enjoy with a side of vegetables.
Anchovies. Choose products canned in olive oil and see benefits from the fish and healthy fat.
Sardines. Toss with pasta or blend into a salad dressing with olive oil and lemon juice.
Mackerel. Enjoy as a swap for canned tuna.
Herring. Smoked or pickled, add to salads or sandwiches.
Salmon. Enjoy grilled with a side of vegetables, smoked or roasted.
Trout. Grill for a lean, but rich source of protein and vitamin D.
Cod. Enjoy grilled, steamed or baked for a low-calorie meal packed with nutrients.
Barramundi. The sustainable white fish pairs well with citrus and olives.
Sea bass. Serve it roasted, grilled or steamed.
Shrimp. Sauté with garlic and olive oil, and toss with pasta.
Crab. Add to a healthy seafood stew.
Oysters. Enjoy fresh oysters with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Mussels. Steam with garlic and fresh herbs.
Clams. Toss steamed clams with pasta and olive oil.
Octopus. Grill it and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice.
Mediterranean Diet Vegetables
Nearly all vegetables can be enjoyed on the Mediterranean diet, even the starchy ones like potatoes. Eat them raw or cooked. Steamed, roasted or sautéed in olive oil are the healthiest cooking methods. The Cleveland Clinic recommends having at least three servings of a cup of raw or half-cup of cooked vegetables a day.
Mediterranean Diet Fruits
Fruits are another key part of the Mediterranean diet’s plant-based focus, and really none are off limits. Fresh fruit is best, since it’s packed with vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients. You should aim to eat three servings of a half-cup to a cup each day.
Related: How to Buy Avocados Like a Boss
Mediterranean diet nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds offer heart-healthy fats and are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. On the Mediterranean diet, aim for three servings a week of seeds and nuts, about three-quarters of a cup, or 2 tablespoons of nut and seed butters. Enjoy nuts and seeds raw, or add them to salads, yogurt or any other dish. Just choose raw, unsalted or dry roasted ones when you can.
Mediterranean Diet Legumes
Beans, peas and lentils are a strong source of plant-based protein, as well as potassium, iron and other nutrients. Eating three half-cup servings a week should be your goal on the Mediterranean diet. Beans, peas and lentils are versatile: add them to soups or salads, make bean burgers or blend into hummus or dip.
Beans. Cannellini, fava, white and kidney are just a few varieties that can be added to soups and salads.
Peas. Add to pastas or mix in fresh herbs for a delicious side.
Lentils. Toss into soups and salads for extra protein.
Chickpeas. Blend with tahini to make hummus. Need a great recipe? Try this roasted red pepper hummus.
Mediterranean Diet Whole Grains
Unlike many fad diets, you can eat carbs on the Mediterranean diet. Just opt for whole, minimally processed grains, including bread, pasta and cereal, along with oats, barley, quinoa and brown rice. Three to six servings a day is a good goal, which can be broken out as a half cup of cooked grains, a slice of bread or ounce of dry cereal, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Whole oats. Add in lots of fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.
Brown rice. Stir fry with your favorite vegetables.
Barley. Add barley into soups; it pairs especially well with mushrooms.
Bulgur. Toss into a salad with roasted veggies and olive oil.
Buckwheat. Use buckwheat flour to make pancakes or muffins, or eat the grains in salad or soups.
Corn. Eat it straight off the cob, grill it or sauté in olive oil.
Whole-grain bread. Mash avocado on a slice or pile on your favorite veggies for a healthy lunch.
Pita bread. Spread with hummus and wrap around your favorite veggies or fish.
Pasta. Mix with shrimp and veggies, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh herbs.
Couscous. The versatile tiny pasta takes on any flavor you put with it, so load it up with vegetables.
Farro. Make a salad with olives and lemon juice.
Quinoa. Create a healthy grain bowl, with nuts, seeds and veggies.
Mediterranean Diet Meat
The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based protein and fish, but poultry can also be included. Choose skinless white meat most of the time, especially when it’s baked, broiled or grilled. Limit eating beef, pork or lamb.
Cornish game hens
Mediterranean Diet Cheese and Other Dairy
Cheeses, eggs, milk and other low-fat dairy products are included in the Mediterranean diet. Choose fat-free or 1% milk options, and try not to eat more than three servings a week. Avoid whole milk and cream.
Cheese. Feta, brie, chevre, parmesan, ricotta, manchengo, haloumi and labneh are some healthy options, and there’s no end to the dishes you can add cheese to.
Greek yogurt. Top with fresh fruit and nuts.
Eggs. Scramble with fresh veggies and herbs.
Milk. Choose low-fat or fat-free varieties.
Healthy Fats on the Mediterranean Diet
Extra virgin olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Aim for adding 1 tablespoon, but no more than four, to your daily diet. Other plant-based oils, like avocado oil, are also acceptable, but avoid butter and other animal fats.
Extra virgin olive oil. Use it to sauté vegetables and fish, or drizzle on salads and pasta.
Avocado oil. Mix into a salad dressing, add to smoothies or drizzle over bowls of soup.
Other Mediterranean Diet Foods
Olives. Eat them alone as a snack, or chop up and toss into salads or pastas.
Honey. Drizzle on fruit and yogurt, or blend into a salad dressing. But, avoid most other sweeteners, including refined sugar.
Red wine. Drinking red wine in moderation—meaning no more than a glass or two—can improve heart health.
Find out how you can drink wine and keep your waistline.