The Mediterranean Diet Food List

Do you want to eat the Mediterranean diet? This Mediterranean diet food list comprises over 100 of the most common and available foods in the Mediterranean Diet. If you’re looking to incorporate more healthy foods into your diet, this list is a perfect resource for you. For starters, make sure you have a good quality extra virgin olive oil because almost all Mediterranean diet recipes start with olive oil. You’ll want to get an extra virgin olive oil that is first pressed and really extra virgin. To test if it’s a good quality extra virgin olive oil, drink a teaspoon of the oil and wait ten seconds. You should get a peppery burn in the back of your throat, which means it is highly anti-inflammatory. Only high quality extra virgin olive oils will give the peppery burn, which means they are fresh, and produced from the first pressing of the olives.

After you have a good oil, next is making foods that use lots of fresh vegetables, dark leafy greens, and beans and legumes. Whole grains should always be used instead of processed grains and white flour breads. The flavor of these fresh ingredients is enhanced by extra virgin olive oil. Whether raw on a salad, sauteed, baked, or even deep-fried, this healthy fat is used for all cooking purposes in the Mediterranean diet. This list focuses on fresh ingredients and little to no processed foods. When you’re shopping for these foods, avoid any “diet, lite, low-calorie, and low-fat” products.

Meat, fish, and dairy products are generally eaten less often in the Mediterranean, except for fermented dairy products like fresh yogurt. Of course, in the more mountainous areas, meat and cheese are eaten more often (but still in relatively small amounts) because that’s what’s more available. Also, if you live on the sea, fresh seafood is eaten a couple of times per week. This diet is about moderation, excluding the lavish use of extra virgin olive oil. For snacks and desserts, fresh fruit and nuts and seeds are the favorites.

Coffee is drunk all day long and is a social event. A coffee with friends can last up to 3 hours. People of the Mediterranean drink caffeinated coffee past 9 p.m. and rarely drink decaf. The usually stay out very late and early into the morning socializing, so a coffee this late isn’t strange to them. Wine is very important and is drunk with lunch and dinner. Red wine is preferred over white because of its anti-oxidants, but white is widely consumed as well. Another thing that is drunk every day is local aperitifs, such as raki (moonshine), ouzo, tsipouro, and many others, depending on the country. These are usually served with dessert and the Mediterranean people believe that these aperitifs help with digestion.

You might be wondering: If the people are drinking this much, how can this be healthy? For starters, they always have alcohol with food. Sipping slowly and enjoying the wine over a 2-3 hour meal is how they savor and appreciate their wine. They are also drinking in a social way with friends and family, where getting drunk is not socially acceptable. Since ancient Greek times, the people in the Mediterranean have drunk socially and looked down upon getting embarrassingly drunk in the presence of friends and family. It is all about socializing with good people and food, and not abusing the alcohol. Drinking in this way actually improves your health and overall well-being. If you don’t drink, don’t worry, the health benefits of alcohol can be found by drinking grape juice, eating grapes or exercising. There are plenty of people in the Mediterranean who don’t drink at all.

This Mediterranean diet food list is available as a PDF file, and I recommend printing it out and putting it on your fridge. You will always have inspiration to eat these healthy foods whenever you go into the fridge. If you’re looking for recipes to make with these foods, check out our extensive collection of Mediterranean Diet Recipes.

Here is the downloadable pdf: Mediterranean Food List Pdf

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Traditional Med Diet

Characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet

Traditional Mediterranean meals feature foods grown all around the Mediterranean Sea, and enjoyed along with lifestyle factors typical of this region. Easily adaptable to today’s kitchens and busy lives, they include:

Grains, Vegetables & Fruits

Grains, vegetables, and fruits should be eaten at most meals, because they are important sources of vitamins, minerals, energy, antioxidants, and fiber. An eating pattern high in these foods promotes good health and weight control when consumed wisely.
Grains. The majority of grains should be whole grains, such as wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, and corn. These grains are best consumed in whole, minimally-processed forms, because refining and processing can remove many valuable nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Grains and grain products common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: barley, buckwheat, bulgur, farro, millet, oats, polenta, rice, wheatberries, breads, couscous, and pastas.
Vegetables. Vegetables are an important staple of eating patterns of peoples in all the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, providing valuable nutrients and satiety. These benefits are amplified because the vegetables are normally cooked or drizzled with olive oil. Raw vegetables are also a healthy vegetable option.

Vegetables common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: artichokes, arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, celeriac, chicory, collard greens, cucumbers, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, kale, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mache, mushrooms, mustard greens, nettles, okra, onions (red, sweet, white), peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, purslane, radishes, rutabaga, scallions, shallots, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips, zucchini.
Fruits. Whole fresh fruit is ever-present in the Mediterranean. No-sugar-added fruit juices provide only some of the same nutrition benefits as whole fruit, and attention to portion control and total calories is wise. Fruit “drinks” do not have the benefits of fruit juice.

Fruits common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: apples, apricots, avocados, cherries, clementines, dates, figs, grapefruits, grapes, melons, nectarines, olives, oranges, peaches, pears, pomegranates, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes.

Ol

ives & Olive Oil

Olives and olive oil are central to the Mediterranean diet. Olives are universally eaten whole, and widely used for cooking and flavoring in the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Olive oil is the principal source of dietary fat used for cooking, baking, and for dressing salads and vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil is highest in health-promoting fats, phytonutrients and other important micronutrients.

Nuts, Beans, Legumes & Seeds

Nuts, beans, legumes and seeds are good sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. They add flavor and texture to Mediterranean dishes.

Nuts, seeds, and legumes common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: almonds, cannellini beans, chickpeas, cashews, fava beans, green beans, hazelnuts, kidney beans, lentils, pine nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, split peas, tahini sauce, walnuts.

Herbs & Spices

Herbs and spices add flavors and aromas to foods, reducing the need to add salt or fat when cooking. They are also rich in a broad range of health-promoting antioxidants, and are used liberally in Mediterranean cuisines. Herbs and spices also contribute to the national identities of the various Mediterranean cuisines.

Cheese & Yogurt

Cheese and yogurt are eaten regularly in the traditional Mediterranean diet, but in low to moderate amounts. The calcium in cheese and yogurt is important for bone and heart health. Low fat and nonfat dairy products ease concerns of adverse consequences of somewhat higher consumption of dairy products.

Dairy products common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: brie, chevre, corvo, feta, haloumi, manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino, ricotta, yogurt (including Greek yogurt).

Fish & Shellfish

Fish and shellfish are important sources of healthy protein for Mediterranean populations. Fish such as tuna, herring, sardines, salmon and bream are rich in essential heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish and crustaceans including mussels, clams and shrimp have similar benefits. Fish and shellfish are not typically battered and fried in Mediterranean countries.

Eggs

Eggs are a good source of high-quality protein, and can be especially beneficial for individuals who do not eat meat. Eggs are regularly used in baking in Mediterranean countries.

Chicken, duck, and quail eggs are all common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet.

Meats

Meats are eaten in small portions by Mediterranean peoples, who prefer lean cuts. Poultry is a good source of lean protein without the high levels of saturated fat found in some cuts of red meat. With ground meats, 90 percent lean/10 percent fat is a sound choice.

Poultry and red meat common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: beef, chicken, duck, goat, guinea fowl, lamb, mutton, pork.

Wine

Wine is consumed regularly but moderately in the Mediterranean, unless discouraged by religious beliefs. “Moderately” means up to one five-ounce glass of wine per day for women and up to two five-ounce glasses for men. Individuals should only drink wine if they are medically able to do so, and should ask their doctors for more information.

Water

Water is essential for life, and proper hydration during each day makes a positive contribution to health, well being and energy levels. Individual variations in body sizes, metabolic rates and activity levels mean that some people should drink more water every day than others.

Portion Size

Because foods in the bottom section of the pyramid may be eaten in larger amounts and more frequently, portion sizes and frequency of consumption decline in the pyramid’s upper sections.

Moderation

Moderation is a wise approach. A balanced and healthy diet accommodates most foods and drinks, so long as moderation and wise choices are the key characteristics. For example, enjoying a small piece of birthday cake, savoring a few slices of grilled steak, or relaxing with family and friends with a glass or two of wine or beer are important aspects of being human. As always, moderation is the wise watchword.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Daily physical activity is important for overall good health. This includes strenuous exercise like running and aerobics, as well as more leisurely activities such as walking and housework or yard-work, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Meals in the Company of Others

The Mediterranean Diet is grounded on the principles of enjoyment and pleasure. Foods, drinks and meals are best eaten with others, when possible, and savored.

As you follow the Mediterranean Diet, keep in mind that weight control is very important for good health. Establish your healthy weight range from your doctor or from reputable web sites, and let this healthy weight range be your guide. If you are above this range, cut back on the food and drink you consume, add more exercise, or both. For most people, counting calories obsessively not only detracts from enjoying foods, drinks, and meals, but also doesn’t work very well in the long term. These recommendations and the updated Mediterranean Diet Pyramid are reliable for most adults. However, children and pregnant women and others with special dietary needs may require dietary supplementation. These needs can be accommodated within the Mediterranean Diet in most circumstances.

This Mediterranean Diet Shopping List Will Have You Excited for Your Next Grocery Run

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One of the Mediterranean diet’s greatest strengths is that it’s not super restrictive. While some diets call for sticking to a list of food that’s depressingly short, the Mediterranean diet is more of a ~lifestyle~ that emphasizes nutritious, whole foods without completely forbidding anything. If you’re unfamiliar with the diet, though, that freedom makes grocery shopping pretty open-ended, which could be overwhelming when you’re staring at the produce in the grocery store.

Luckily, for anyone who appreciates the structure of a checklist, you can opt to bring this Mediterranean diet shopping list to the store. (Related: 5 Mediterranean Diet Health Benefits That Make It One of the Best Ways to Eat)

Mediterranean Diet Basics

First, though, you should familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of the Mediterranean diet. As the name suggests, it’s based on the eating style of people who live in the Mediterranean region, which includes a lot of fish, legumes, vegetables, and healthy fats like olive oil. A common way to frame the diet is thinking about it as a food pyramid. At the bottom are the foods you should eat the most of: fish, produce, and legumes. Next, in the middle are the foods you should eat moderately: whole grains, lean meat, dairy, wine, and healthy fats. Finally, the very top of the pyramid signifies foods you should eat sparingly: red meat as well as sugary, highly processed foods.

Sounds pretty reasonable right? Yep, not only is the Mediterranean diet easy to stick with, it’s constantly getting recognized by nutrition pros as one of the healthiest ways to eat, period, thanks to its emphasis on plant-based foods and seafood.

Now that you’re refreshed on the basics of the eating style, putting together a Mediterranean diet shopping list will be a piece of cake. If you’re looking for recipe inspiration, consult this Mediterranean diet meal plan and create your shopping list from there. Otherwise, draw from the master Mediterranean diet shopping list below to prep for your upcoming grocery haul. Keep in mind that by nature the Mediterranean diet isn’t exclusionary, so just because a food is absent from this list doesn’t mean it’s off-limits. Just consider this list a lineup of key players that are central to the diet. (Related: 50 Easy Mediterranean Diet Recipes and Meal Ideas)

Mediterranean Diet Shopping List

Meat/Fish

  • Anchovies
  • Chicken
  • Cod
  • Lamb
  • Lobster
  • Mussels
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Tuna

Grains

  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Farro
  • Quinoa
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole grain pasta

Legumes/Nuts

  • Cannellini beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney Beans
  • Lentils
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

Fruits

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Avocado
  • Cantaloupe
  • Dates
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Watermelon

Vegetables

  • Artichoke
  • Arugula
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery
  • Eggplant
  • Escarole
  • Figs
  • Kale
  • Mushrooms
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Eggs/Dairy

  • Eggs
  • Feta cheese
  • Goat cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Yogurt

Condiments/Herbs

  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Garlic
  • Hummus
  • Olive oil
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Pesto
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Rosemary
  • Tahini
  • Thyme
  • Tomato sauce

We all love sunshine and good food, and Mediterranean countries certainly have both. But what they seem to also have is better health than their American or British cousins. But why is that? For over 2 decades dietitians have put this down to their healthy eating habits and a good amount of physical activity. So, why not be more Mediterranean and improve your health and lose weight using our Mediterranean diet shopping list?

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Overview

The diet was first developed by Harvard School of Public Health and Oldways, a nonprofit food think tank, back in 1993 as a food pyramid. It has since evolved into a fully fledged diet.

The whole idea of the diet is about making long-term and healthy lifestyle changes that match those of southern Europeans. It’s not about rapid weight loss or strict meal plans. It’s more about flexible and fundamental changes to how you eat and keep yourself active.

Indeed, there are many underlying healthy eating factors involved in this diet that are similar to those you can find on our healthy grocery list or in our flexitarian diet guide.

The diet focuses on:

  • Avoiding red meat and sweets
  • Opting for leaner white meat, such as poultry
  • Eating more seafood and fish, especially oily fish
  • Using plenty of olive oil in cooking
  • Eating wholegrain and wholemeal products
  • Eating lots of fruit and vegetables
  • Having a glass of red wine with your evening meal
  • Doing plenty of exercise

So, let’s go over the benefits of the diet, answer some burning questions, and provide you with a Mediterranean diet shopping list template to get you started. However, you can skip straight to the end and of the grocery list if you want.

Benefits

The diet has several much-touted health benefits.

Heart Health

One of the biggest health benefits of this diet is how good it is for your heart. There have been many studies into the cardiovascular benefits of the diet. It’s found to:

  • Lowersbad cholesterol (LDL)
  • Increases good cholesterol (HDL)

Put these together and you get a significant decrease in your risk of developing heart disease.

But why is this?

It’s because the diet shuns red meat which is high in saturated fat and opts for leaner white meat: namely poultry. Also, its emphasis on eating a lot of fruit and vegetables, using plenty of olive oil with is a great source of omega 3, and staying active, all contribute to improving your heart health.

Blood Sugar

In 2017, a report found that 9.4% of people in the USA have type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes. That’s around 100 million people. It’s also the USA’s 7th leading cause of death. In the United Kingdom, although the figure might be slightly lower coming in at 6.2% of adults, the amount has more than doubled between 1996 and 2015. Diabetes is also a growing problem globally.

But can the Mediterranean diet help?

It certainly can!

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The biggest risk to becoming diabetic or developing pre-diabetes is being overweight. The diet can help you lose weight and therefore lessen your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Because the diet is also about long-term and sustainable weight loss, you’ll be less likely to drift back into the danger zone.

What’s more, if you already have diabetes, studies have shown that the diet can help significantly control your blood sugar levels, and even reduce them over time.

Mediterranean Diet FAQs

If your interest has been piqued, then you’ll most certainly have some questions about the diet. So, let’s try and answer them.

How easy is it?

It’s not one of the easiest diets to follow, but it’s certainly not hard. The reason it’s not easy is that it doesn’t have a defined meal plan and relies on you making changes to your eating and grocery habits.

This means you’ll have to do a bit more of your own planning to create a robust Mediterranean diet plan, and also exert a little bit of willpower to stick to the food you should be eating. A Mediterranean diet shopping list will certainly help.

Create Your Own Mediterranean Diet Shopping List!

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Another difficult part of the diet is that you’ll also need to increase your activity: a crucial part of the diet. Depending on your current level of activity, and how pressed for time you are, this could prove challenging for some.

Making things easier is that this is a well known and established diet so it’s actually really easy to find plenty of recipes online to inspire you and help you plan your meals.

Do I really need to do more exercise?

Absolutely.

However, this doesn’t mean that you’re expected to be signing up to every available marathon, and end up living at the gym. The diet is more about being at least a little bit more active, rather than pumping iron 24/7.

Being more active can simply be achieved by doing some more walking than you usually do. Try catching public transit from a stop further away to your usual, or making time for leisurely strolls now and then. Or, swap your car or bus commute with a bicycle one.

However, the more active the activity, the better. But this still doesn’t mean sweating away at the gym by yourself. You can learn a new sport, or join a dance class for more social exercising. Whatever you do, just don’t be languishing on the couch or in front of the computer for too long.

One thing you could do to help is to buy a fitness tracking watch or even download an equivalent app for your phone. Whilst these won’t directly help you lose weight and become healthier, they can serve as motivation and monitoring tools to help spur you into becoming more active.

Do I really need to drink wine?

This is completely up to you.

There are many purported benefits to drinking 1 glass of red wine with a meal on a regular basis. This is why it’s part of the diet.

These benefits include:

  • Lowering your post-meal blood sugar
  • Increasing your good cholesterol (HDL)

It is recommended that you drink red wine instead of white wine, as the ruddier version has more antioxidants than its paler counterpart.

But you should only drink a glass of wine with your meal if you have the willpower to stick to only 1 glass. Drinking more than this can pile on unnecessary extra calories and start causing negative effects. These can be in the form of increasing the risk of liver disease and stomach ulcers.

It’s important to note that there is no “safe” level of drinking alcohol. 1 glass of wine with your meal is considered “low risk”, even taking into account the benefits it’s supposed to have.

So, it’s up to you whether you include wine as part of the diet or not.

Is the diet cheap?

If you’re going to include a lot of olive oil and wine, the diet is going to err on the side of expensive. Especially as, the more “virgin” the olive oil is, the purer it is. This means that extra virgin olive oil is healthier than virgin olive oil as it has gone through less processing. But this also makes it pricier. However, you can omit the wine, and/or opt for cheaper oil that is still rich in omega 3.

You can reduce costs further by eating more vegetarian meals than meat. Like with the flexitarian diet, you can replace meat protein with that from food such as pulses, which also contains a high amount of fiber. If you buy dried pulses instead of canned, your outgoings will be even less, although your meals will take longer to prepare.

Is there anything I can’t eat?

Nope.

You’re still free to eat whatever you want. However, food containing a high amount of saturated fat and refined sugar should be avoided as much as possible.

This means you can certainly still have that steak or fried chicken now and then, or a nice bit of your favorite chocolate. But these should be something you do from only from time to time.

Don’t buy what you don’t need. Stick to the essentials with a shopping list.

It might be hard to adjust to these changes and the absence of these treats at first. Willpower and some smart shopping can help here. Try snacking on wholegrain bread dipped in oil, or eating a nut and seed mix. Instead of having ice cream or sugary puddings for dessert, try having plenty of fresh fruit to hand. Or at least opt for low-fat yogurt. These will certainly stave off any cravings you might have at the start, and help you adjust to your healthier diet.

TIP

Instead of spreading high saturated fat butter on your bread, simply dip it in some olive oil. You can even mix it with some tangy balsamic vinegar. However, if you would still rather spread something on your bread, try and olive oil-infused margarine, hummus (a paste made from chickpeas), or tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds).

After a time, you’ll be looking forward to your indulgent treats. But you might find you’re not missing them nearly as much as you thought you would.

Will I lose weight?

Certainly.

But it must be noted that this is not a rapid weight-loss diet. The weight loss you will see will definitely be gradual, but you can sleep easy knowing that this is sustainable. You won’t see it coming back to haunt you any time soon.

Indeed, Oldways calculates that the diet innately puts people at a calorie deficit of 25-40% against daily recommendations. Even if you’re being more free with what you eat, chances are you’ll still be eating fewer calories and will start naturally losing weight.

However, if you want to be sure you’re heading towards weight loss, you can always use a calorie counter to keep track of what you eat.

If you want to see more instantaneous results, you might want to consider something like the Military diet. However, it should be noted that the nutritional benefits of this are nowhere near that of the Mediterranean diet.

Is the diet healthy?

Exceptionally!

You’ll be eating plenty of fruit and veg, ingesting lots of omega 3-choc olive oil, doing plenty of exercise, and avoiding food high in saturated fat and refined sugar.

The increase of fruit and vegetables in your diet will mean you’re getting plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are key to keeping you healthy. The avoidance of saturated fat and sugar will keep your calorie intake steady.

In fact, the diet is so healthy that USA News, considered an authority on global diet trends, rated it as it’s #1 diet of 2019, alongside the DASH diet.

Your Sunkissed Shopping List

If you’re as excited about this diet as we are, then you’ll no doubt be eager to download and print out your free grocery list to help get you started.

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Meat & Fish

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Oily Fish
    • Tuna
    • Salmon
    • Mackerel
    • Haddock
  • Shellfish
    • Shrimp/prawns
    • Mussels

Dairy & Eggs

  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Olive oil-infused margarine

Oil

  • Extra virgin olive oil

Condiments

  • Hummus
  • Tahini
  • Balsamic vinegar

Drinks

  • Red wine

Bread & Grains

  • Wholegrain bread
  • Wholegrain pasta
  • Legumes
    • White beans
    • Black beans
    • Chickpeas
    • Red kidney beans
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Produce

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Tomatoes
  • Aubergines/Eggplants
  • Courgettes/Zucchinis
  • Mushrooms
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Bananas
  • Grapes

Other

  • Fitness tracker watch or app

Have you been on the diet? Is there anything missing from our Mediterranean diet shopping list? Why do you think southern Europeans are healthier than Americans or the British? Let us know in the comments.

Not sure where to start with the Mediterranean diet? This expert Mediterranean diet food list is your answer! This list of 5 essential foods comes from Director of Nutrition at Oldways, Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN. It’s so simple to follow, and be sure to grab our shopping list and browse our growing list of Mediterranean diet recipes here.

Aside from the fact that it’s the easiest diet to follow, the main reason the Mediterranean diet is ranked the #1 overall healthy diet is because it is the most sensible, wholesome and nutritionally sound diet you’ll find.

What Makes the Mediterranean Diet different from other diets?

Unlike other fads and silver-bullet diets out there (check out the bottom of this list, if you’re curious), the Mediterranean diet does not require you to jump through impossible hoops or deprive yourself to the point of misery.

The Mediterranean diet is a balanced eating pattern that is rich in vegetables; fruit; whole grains; lean proteins, especially fish; and good fats from extra virgin olive oil. Red meats? Not too often. Sugars? Save those for special occasions.

What’s really exciting about eating the Mediterranean way is the focus on big flavors and the pleasure of the table. It’s all about good food; good company; and hey, you can even have a glass of wine! Who wouldn’t love that?!

Image Courtesy: Oldways

What Can You Eat on The Mediterranean Diet?

If you’re wondering, “what should I eat on the Mediterranean diet?” Here’s a quick summary:

– Eat MORE: fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes.

– Eat MODERATELY: Lean proteins from fish and some poultry.

– Eat LESS: Red Meats and Sweets (sweets are often eliminated if you’re following a stricter Mediterranean diet.)

– Use quality Extra virgin olive oil regularly. Our favorites are: Early Harvest extra virgin olive oil and Greek Private Reserve extra virgin olive oil

– For Flavor: Reduce salt and use more fresh herbs, garlic, citrus, and spices.

I recently chatted with Director of Nutrition at Oldways Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN, and asked her my burning question: “If you were to list just 5 essential Mediterranean Diet foods, what would they be?”

Here they are…

Mediterranean Diet Food List: 5 Essential Foods You Need

1. Extra Virgin Olive oil

Olive oil is the primary cooking fat in the Mediterranean diet. Traditional Mediterranean diets will use extra virgin olive oil in everything from salad dressings, to roasting or sauté vegetables, to tossing with pasta, to marinating seafood and meats, or simply adding to dips like hummus or baba ganoush, and more!

Olive oil has been well studied for its role in heart health, and recent research suggests that frequent olive oil consumption may be linked with making blood less likely to clot.

Tip: Find quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils from organically grown and processed olives, of low acidity levels and high polyphenols.

(If you live in the USA, visit our online store to learn about our Greek extra virgin olive oils Private Reserve and Early Harvest.)

2. Seafood

For centuries, the Mediterranean Sea has been a source of delicious and nutritious seafood for its coastal neighbors. Experts say, the Mediterranean diet includes at least two servings of seafood per week, which comes from a variety of sources, including small fish, like sardines. Eating fish regularly is linked with numerous benefits, including a 40% lower risk of heart disease, as well as a lower risk of depression.

A few seafood recipes to try: Greek Baked Cod with Lemon and Garlic; Easy Mediterranean Shrimp; Baked Fish with Tomato and Capers; Sicilian Fish Stew; Baked Salmon with Garlic Cilantro Sauce. More here

3. Legumes (like lentils or chickpeas)

Legumes–also known as pulses like lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas and the like– are a reliable and affordable source of shelf stable protein in the traditional Mediterranean diet. This is important, given that meat was not eaten infrequently (both because of religious fasting and because of expense and availability).

Pulses and legumes are satisfying, nutrition-dense foods that are high in proteins and dietary fiber. They are linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and it can be just as filling as meat-based foods. Thankfully, in the Mediterranean diet, legumes are consumed nearly daily!

A few legume recipes to try: bean salads, lentil stews, hummus, mashed fava beans, fasolada, pasta fagiolio, chickpea stew, and this vegan stew with peas and carrots. And if you are as big on chickpeas as I am, check out this list of 17 chickpea recipes.

4. Nuts and Seeds

Nut trees are abundant throughout the Mediterranean, and as such, nuts have played an important role in shaping the cuisine!

Nuts are eaten daily or nearly daily in the Mediterranean diet, simply as snacks or incorporated into dips or pestos, sprinkled on salads and vegetable dishes, folded into pasta meals…etc.

Researchers find that protein from nuts and seeds is linked with less death from heart disease than protein from meat. Nuts’ biggest claim to fame is their link with longevity, but they are also linked with lower risks of heart disease and cancer.

A few recipes with nuts to try: Muhammara (roasted red pepper dip with walnuts), healthy chicken salad, Moroccan Chicken, Roasted Garlic Hummus, Chunky Citrus Avocado Dip, Olive Oil Banana Bread

5. Leafy Greens

The Mediterranean diet focuses heavily on vegetables, but one important element is leafy vegetables. Green leafy vegetables are basically any vegetable that has leaves you can eat like kale, collard, spinach, and arugula. But they also encompass the entire lettuce family and a variety of herbs, like parsley and cilantro!

Leafy greens are good for our bodies and our brains. In fact, one study found that people who ate just one to two servings of leafy greens per day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who ate none.

Not only are they a great source of nutrition for our bodies, but leafy greens are a great way to add color, texture and flavor to your meals. And thankfully, they are easy to use

A few recipes with Leafy Greens and Herbs to Try: Chicken Arugula Salad, Vegan Potato Leek Soup, Spicy Cilantro Pesto, Cilantro Lime Chicken, Tabouli, Spanakopita

Looking for More Mediterranean Diet Recipes?

Once you start eating the Mediterranean way, you will find so many ways to incorporate bold Mediterranean flavors into your meals.

Be sure to check out the BEST and LARGEST selection of Mediterranean diet recipes here. This is a growing list of nearly 200 recipes, and more will be added on a regular basis.

Here’s the Quick Summary. Remember Two Things:

  1. Olive oil always…or most of the time.
  2. Eat more, seafood and greens, nuts and beans.

You may also like to read:

  • What is the Mediterranean Diet and How to Follow It
  • Mediterranean Diet Snacks
  • The Ultimate Mediterranean Diet Breakfast

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*Special thanks to Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition at Oldways. Oldways is a nonprofit dedicated to improving public health by inspiring individuals and organizations to embrace the healthy, sustainable joys of the “old ways” of eating—heritage-based diets high in taste, nourishment, sustainability, and joy. Kelly holds a BS in nutrition from the University of Texas, where she completed her dietetic internship, and also holds a master’s degree in Gastronomy from Boston University, with a concentration in food policy. She has been with Oldways since 2014.

*This post originally appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in 2019 and has been updated with more information for readers’ benefit.

They really seem to have it figured out in the Mediterranean: gorgeous weather, primo vino, and an iconically healthy eating style.

The Mediterranean diet—modeled after the Italians and the Greeks—has been around since the 1960s. And when it comes to food philosophies, this one just keeps getting buzzier. In fact, it just won best diet of 2019.

While trends like the South Beach and alkaline diet may come and go, what is it about this style of eating that makes it a perennial favorite among healthcare providers and the public alike?

The Mediterranean diet packs a lot of benefits

The Mediterranean diet’s biggest selling point is its health benefits. It’s been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, among other illness. Research shows that it may even slow aging.

But the real secret may be its flexibility.

“The wonderful thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it’s not really a ‘diet’ at all, but rather a style of eating,” says Cara Harbstreet, RD of Street Smart Nutrition. “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.”

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

Want more healthy eating insight? Check out how this professional ballerina fuels her active life:

The Mediterranean diet is pretty simple to follow

“The premise is avoiding over-processed, packaged foods and enjoying fresh, whole foods whenever possible,” says Emily Kyle, registered dietitian nutritionist. That means keeping processed meat (think: hot dogs), refined grains (white bread), refined oils (vegetable), and added sugars to a minimum. “This simple approach makes the Mediterranean diet a bit easier to understand and, ultimately, implement in real life.”

More On The Mediterranean Diet

The best part is that there are a variety of cuisines and ingredients in the Mediterranean region, which means a ton of options. “The Mediterranean diet is a more flexible approach to eating than other diets,” says Harbstreet. “It even allows for moderate alcohol consumption, such as red wine.” Yes, please!

Use this Mediterranean Diet food list

If you’re interested in following a Mediterranean style of eating, here’s your cheat sheet of which foods to eat:

Jewelyn Butron

  • Fruits: Any and all fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, pears, melon, grapes, berries, dates, figs, peaches, and grapefruit. (Kyle says it’s okay to include frozen fruit with no added ingredients, and canned fruit in water or light juice, too.)
  • Vegetables: Any and all fresh vegetables like tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, kale, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, summer squash, and onions. Don’t forget about root vegetables like sweet potatoes, potatoes, turnips, and parsnips. (Frozen vegetables with no added ingredients and canned vegetables like tomatoes are okay, too.)
  • Whole Grains: Whole grains, plus bread and pasta made with whole-grain ingredients. This includes whole wheat, oats, barley, rye, quinoa, and brown rice.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Whole nuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, and pistachios. Seeds such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and flaxseeds.
  • Legumes: Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and fava beans.
  • Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, walnut oil, olives.
  • Dairy: Moderate amounts of dairy items like Greek yogurt, cheese, and milk.
  • Fish and Seafood: Wild-caught fish and shellfish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, tuna, trout, and clams.
  • Other Animal Protein: Moderate amounts of poultry, pork, and other lean options. Save red meat for special occasions.
  • Herbs and Spices: Garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, mint, sage, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg, and more.

As you can see there’s a LOT to choose from. So go forth, and make the Mediterranean diet your own.

Christine Yu Christine Yu is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and avid runner who regularly covers health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness for outlets like Well + Good, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, and Outside.

Mediterranean diet foods list

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