The Mediterranean Diet: Top Meal Ideas to Get You Started

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Packing up and moving to a country along the Mediterranean Sea may not be an easy task, but there is one simple way to get closer to that beautiful area of the world. We’re talking about the Mediterranean diet, which was named the best diet of 2024 by US News and World Report and is also one of the best weight loss diets, according to experts. The Mediterranean diet can bring the Mediterranean right into your home with added heart health benefits. 

It’s a nutrient-rich and nonrestrictive diet that works for many people. If that sounds appealing, here’s everything you need to start the Mediterranean diet. But before you delve into any new diet plan, make sure to consult your doctor first. 

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the traditional diets of people who live along the Mediterranean coast. While each country’s diet may vary, the Mediterranean diet consists mainly of plant-based foods, seafood, lean poultry, whole grains, nuts, beans, olive oil, herbs and spices. The key is to eat as much fresh food as possible since highly processed foods are limited in the diet.  

Green Mediterranean diet

A recent popular variation of the Mediterranean diet is the green Mediterranean diet. Instead of occasionally having red and processed meats with the regular Mediterranean diet, the green Mediterranean diet cuts out meat altogether and focuses more on plant-based foods. 

There is a set amount of calories and protein to hit each day, in addition to three recommendations. Each day, an individual must obtain 100 grams of duckweed (an aquatic plant, usually put in a shake), 3 to 4 cups of green tea and 1 ounce of walnuts. A 2021 study found that the green Mediterranean diet variation may be healthier for one’s heart than the original diet. It may even be more effective in preventing and managing chronic diseases. A 2022 study found that the diet may aid in age-related brain health.  

Read more: The Atlantic Diet: Why Eating Local, Whole Foods May Improve Your Health

Mediterranean diet benefits

The Mediterranean diet has many health benefits and is great for kosher, vegetarian or budget-conscious people.

Heart health

The most well-known benefit of this diet is its potential to boost heart health. A 2019 study concluded that the Mediterranean diet could lower your risk of stroke and heart disease. Also, due to the lower saturated fat content in the diet, a 2021 study found that it can slow the process of plaque building up in the arteries.   

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Brain health 

The Mediterranean diet can promote brain health as we age. A 2021 study on Alzheimer’s disease found that a Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of dementia and other risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. It may also improve memory and cognitive function. 

Possible weight loss

This diet may help you lose weight and maintain long-term weight loss. A 2020 study found that participants who lost at least 10% of their body weight on the Mediterranean diet were two times more likely to keep the weight off.  

Note that any diet is not complete without added exercise. If you are serious about weight loss, add daily exercise to your routine in addition to a new diet. Make sure to consult your doctor to find the right diet and exercise plan for you. 

Read more: Does Your Blood Type Affect Your Heart Health? Yes, but Here’s the Full Story 

How does the Mediterranean diet work?

Olives, tomatoes, broccoli, olive oil Olives, tomatoes, broccoli, olive oil

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The Mediterranean diet is one of the easiest to follow, and counting calories is not required. While there are no strict rules, there are a few recommendations. These include eating fish or seafood at least twice a week, drinking lots of water, eating a wide range of foods and filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and olive oil, daily. On top of these recommendations, your meals and snacks are up to you. Here is what you are encouraged to eat.    

Foods to eat on the Mediterranean diet

On the Mediterranean diet, try to eat plant-based and whole foods. These may include:

  • Fish (salmon, tuna, herring, etc.)
  • Seafood
  • Poultry, in moderation
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs, in moderation
  • Olive oil
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Pasta
  • Yogurt, in moderation
  • Nuts
  • 100% whole-wheat bread
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • A glass of red wine with meals (no more than one glass for women, two glasses for men)
  • A bit of dark chocolate

Foods to limit on the Mediterranean diet

While no foods are “off-limits,” try to eat the following rarely:

  • Red meats 
  • Sugary foods and drinks
  • Processed foods
  • Butter

Meal ideas

Fill your grocery list with these meal ideas for the week. 

Breakfast

  • Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and a cup of tea 
  • Whole-wheat toast with natural peanut butter and a cup of coffee (added cream and sugar in moderation)

Lunch

  • Chicken orzo soup with vegetables 
  • Greek salad with olives, avocado and feta cheese

Dinner

  • Salmon cooked in olive oil, brown rice and roasted vegetables
  • Tuna over quinoa and arugula with olive oil vinaigrette dressing 

Snacks

  • Assorted nuts and seeds with natural cheese
  • Pita bread and vegetables with hummus 

Is the Mediterranean diet for you?

Bowl of spaghetti with shrimp, asparagus, tomatoes and pesto Bowl of spaghetti with shrimp, asparagus, tomatoes and pesto

Getty Images/Westend61/Westend61

Although named the best diet of 2024, the Mediterranean diet is not for everyone. Talk to your doctor before making any major dietary changes. If you are considering trying this diet for yourself, here are some points to remember.  

You should try the Mediterranean diet if:

  • You do well with nonrestrictive diets
  • You already eat lots of seafood, plant-based foods and whole grains
  • You are looking for a budget-friendly diet low in unhealthy fats and high in healthy fats

Try another diet or seek a dietitian if:

  • You need more structure or require some foods to be completely off-limits
  • You have major food restrictions or allergies 
  • You need a tailored diet, weight loss and exercise plans

Mediterranean diet FAQs

What is not allowed on the Mediterranean diet?

Technically, no foods are strictly “off-limits” on the Mediterranean diet. You should try to either cut back on or avoid processed foods (especially processed meats), red meats, white breads and pastas, butter, processed oils and excessive alcohol (besides red wine). 

Can you eat eggs on the Mediterranean diet?

Yes, you can eat eggs in moderation on the Mediterranean diet. If you have high cholesterol, try not to have more than four egg yolks in one week.  

Can you eat bananas on the Mediterranean diet?

Yes, you can eat bananas on the Mediterranean diet. It is recommended to eat lots of fruits and vegetables on this diet. 

Which cheese is OK to eat on the Mediterranean diet?

Natural cheeses are the best to eat on the Mediterranean diet. While there are no restrictions, the diet recommends limiting processed cheese. Stay away from heavily processed cheeses like American cheese or cheese-in-a-can. Instead, lean toward natural cheeses like mozzarella, feta, cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan or Muenster. 


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