What Is the Mediterranean Diet? A Detailed Beginner’s Guide

Medically Reviewed
food that goes along with the mediterranean diet
Fish, such as salmon, is a staple of the Mediterranean diet.Nadine Greeff/Stocksy
When we think of a “diet” these days, we usually think of some kind of restriction that will help us reach a specific outcome, such as weight loss. The Mediterranean diet couldn’t be further from that. Rather, it encourages an eating pattern that includes the food staples of people who live in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Spain, Greece, Italy and France.

It also focuses on community when eating — think meals with family and friends and enjoyable conversation.

You’ll find that in their meals, Mediterranean dieters emphasize a plant-based eating approach loaded with vegetables and healthy fats, including olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish. It’s a diet known for being heart-healthy.

"This diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, nuts and legumes, and olive oil," says Nancy L. Cohen, PhD, RD, a professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. On this plan, you’ll limit or avoid red meat, sugary foods, and dairy (though small amounts like yogurt and cheese are included).

Eating this way means you also have little room for processed fare. When you look at a plate, it should be bursting with color; traditional proteins like chicken may be more of a side dish compared with produce, which becomes the main event.

One thing you’ll find people love about the Mediterranean diet is the allowance of low to moderate amounts of red wine. “Moderate” means 5 ounces (oz) or less each day (that’s around one glass). It’s worth noting, though, that a daily glass of wine is not mandatory on this eating plan, and if you don’t already drink, this allowance isn’t a directive to start.

One-Pan Baked Oatmeal

One-Pan Baked Oatmeal is one of the most delicious social media food trends to date — and it's super easy to make! This oatmeal technique was made viral by the likes of @feelgoodfoodie and @smartgusto — and you'll be so glad it found its way into your life.

contains  Dairy, Tree Nuts
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5 min


25 min


30 min


Cooking or baking spray
2 ripe bananas
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups milk (of your choosing)
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 cups fresh berries (frozen would work, too!)
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 lemon, zested
Maple syrup, to taste



For step-by-step directions to make this recipe, visit The Feedfeed.

Nutrition Facts

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Dairy, Tree Nuts, Mediterranean, Gluten-free, Heart-Healthy, Vegetarian, Low-Sodium, High-Fiber, Family-Friendly, Breakfast

Common Questions & Answers

What foods can’t you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
No food is banned, but the Mediterranean diet encourages limiting foods, such as red meat and sugary foods. Consume poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt moderately. In addition, most of the time, avoid soda, highly processed foods, and processed meats.
What’s an example of a Mediterranean diet breakfast?
You have so many choices when it comes to a Mediterranean diet breakfast. Have a slice of a veggie-packed frittata, Greek-style yogurt with berries and granola, oatmeal with fruit, or whole-grain toast, fruit, and soft-boiled eggs.
Is oatmeal okay on the Mediterranean diet? What about cheese? Bananas?
Absolutely to all three! Oats are a whole grain, which is encouraged on the Mediterranean diet. Low or moderate amounts of cheese, such as brie, feta, ricotta, and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), are also allowed. All types of fresh fruits, including bananas, are a go on the diet.
If I’m on the Mediterranean diet, what can I put in my coffee?
Coffee is a beloved beverage worldwide, including among those who follow a Mediterranean diet. If you’re sipping a morning cup, go ahead and add a splash of milk and stir in a small amount of sugar or honey, if desired.
What bread can you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
Always go whole grain when you can. Whole grains, along with fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil are central to the Mediterranean diet. Opt for whole-grain or whole-wheat pita, bread, or flatbread.

How Does the Mediterranean Diet Work?

Because it wasn’t developed ad hoc but is a style of eating in a region of people that evolved naturally over centuries, there’s no official way to follow the Mediterranean diet. It’s popular because it’s a well-rounded approach to eating that isn’t restrictive. Also worth noting is that two of the five so-called blue zones — areas where people live longer and have lower rates of disease — are located in Mediterranean cities (Ikaria in Greece and Sardinia in Italy).

Potential Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is famous for its touted health benefits, which may be attributed to its high produce content.

Indeed, people typically eat three to nine servings of vegetables and up to two servings of fruit a day on a Mediterranean diet.

These fresh, whole foods pack an array of disease-fighting antioxidants, and people who fill their diet with these foods have a lower risk of disease. Yet scientists don’t know if it’s the antioxidants or other compounds (or general healthy eating patterns) that are responsible for these advantages.

Here’s a snapshot of some possible Mediterranean diet health benefits.

A Healthier Heart

This eating approach may be most famous for its benefit to heart health, decreasing the risk of heart disease by, in part, lowering levels of cholesterol

and reducing mortality from cardiovascular conditions.

A Reduced Risk for Certain Cancers

Similarly, the Mediterranean diet has been linked with a lower likelihood of certain cancers,

such as breast cancer,

colon cancer,

prostate cancer,

and some head and neck cancers.

A Sunnier Mood and a Lower Risk of Depression

If eating in the Mediterranean style prompts you to consume more fruit and vegetables, you’ll not only feel better physically, but your mental health will get a lift, too. Research shows that people who eat more raw fruit and veggies (particularly dark leafy greens like spinach, fresh berries, and cucumber) have fewer symptoms of depression, a better mood, and more life satisfaction.

Other research, published in Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health in July 2020, suggests a Mediterranean eating style can support mental health and may play a role in reducing symptoms of depression.

A Lower Risk of Neurodegenerative Diseases

Research has found that a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with better measures of general cognitive function.

Over time, the eating pattern may slow cognitive decline and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

A Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk and Better Diabetes Management

Emerging evidence suggests that eating this way offers protective effects for those who have or are at risk for type 2 diabetes.

For one thing, Mediterranean eating improves blood sugar control in those who already have diabetes, suggesting it can be a good way to manage the disease, according to a review of research.

What’s more, given that those with diabetes are at increased odds for cardiovascular disease, adopting this diet can help improve their heart health, according to research.

Fewer Osteoarthritis Complications

Thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects, the Mediterranean diet may also lower the risk of bone fractures, weight gain (which can put added pressure on the joints), and disability.

Learn More About Health Benefits Associated With the Mediterranean Diet

How To Cook It: Salmon and Asparagus Tacos

Everyday Health staff nutritionist Kelly Kennedy, RDN, shows you how to make asparagus tacos.
How To Cook It: Salmon and Asparagus Tacos

Can the Mediterranean Diet Lead to Weight Loss?

As a traditional way of eating for many cultures worldwide, the Mediterranean diet wasn’t designed for weight loss. It just so happens that one of the healthiest diets around the globe is also good for keeping your weight down.

One review looked at five trials on overweight and obese people and found that after one year those who followed a Mediterranean diet lost as much as 11 pounds (lb) more than low-fat eaters.

(They dropped between 9 and 22 lb total and kept it off for a year.) But that same study found similar weight loss in other diets, like low-carb diets and the American Diabetes Association diet. The results suggest, the researchers say, that “there is no ideal diet for achieving sustained weight loss in overweight or obese individuals.”
Yet a Mediterranean diet can be a varied and inclusive way to lose weight that ditches gimmicks and doesn’t require calorie or macronutrient counting they way other diets (looking at you, ketogenic diet) do. And with the emphasis on healthy fat, it’s satisfying, too. That said, in 2022 U.S. News & World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet No. 1 in the category Best Diets Overall and 12 in its list of Best Weight-Loss Diets.

It’s not a slam dunk, researchers note, and instead depends on how you eat. Portion sizes and fat amounts matter even in healthy diets like the Mediterranean.

A Detailed Mediterranean Diet Food List

On the Mediterranean diet, you’ll rely heavily on the following foods and limit those that are processed. Examples of processed foods include cold cuts and sausage (and other processed meats), salty packaged snacks like potato chips and crackers, and prepared sweets like cookies, cake, and candy.

You may choose to drink a little red wine and eat some dark chocolate.

While you don’t have to count calories on the Mediterranean diet, we’ve included nutrition information for the following foods for your reference.

Olive Oil 

Per tablespoon serving 119 calories, 0 grams (g) protein, 13.5g fat, 2g saturated fat, 10g monounsaturated fat, 0g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g sugar

Benefits Replacing foods high in saturated fats (like butter) with plant sources high in monounsaturated fatty acids, like olive oil, may help lower the risk of heart disease by 19 percent, according to research.


Per 1 cup (chopped) serving 32 calories, 1.6g protein, 0g fat, 7g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 5g sugar

Benefits They pack lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is associated with a reduced risk of some cancers, like prostate and breast. Other components in tomatoes may help reduce the risk of blood clots, thereby protecting against cardiovascular disease, according to a March 2019 review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.


Per 1 small fillet 130 calories, 21g protein, 4.5g fat, 0g carbohydrates, 0g fiber

Benefits The fatty fish is a major source of omega-3 fatty acids. For good heart health, eat at least two fish meals per week, particularly fatty fish like salmon.


Per 1 oz (14 halves) serving 185 calories, 4g protein, 18.5g fat, 2g saturated fat, 3g monounsaturated fat, 13g polyunsaturated fat, 4g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 1g sugar

Benefits Rich in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats, these nuts may also favorably impact your gut microbiome (and thus improve digestive health), as well as lower LDL cholesterol, according to a small study that included 18 healthy adults.


Per 1 cup serving 210 calories, 11g protein, 4g fat, 35g carbohydrate, 10g fiber

Benefits The main ingredient in hummus, chickpeas are a good source of fiber,

which brings digestive health and weight loss benefits, as well as iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium.


Per 1 cup serving 5 calories, 0.5g protein, 0g fat, 1g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g sugar

Benefits Leafy greens, like arugula, are eaten in abundance under this eating approach. Mediterranean-like diets that include frequent (more than six times a week) consumption of leafy greens have been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study.


Per ½ cup serving (arils) 72 calories, 1.5g protein, 1g fat, 16g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 12g sugar

Benefits This fruit, in all its bright red glory, packs powerful polyphenols that act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It’s been suggested that pomegranates have anticancer properties, too, according to research.


Per ½ cup serving 116 calories, 9g protein, 0g fat, 20g carbohydrate, 8g fiber, 2g sugar

Benefits One small study suggested that swapping one-half of your serving of a high-glycemic starch (like rice) with lentils helps lower the glycemic response by 20 percent.


Per ¼ cup (uncooked) serving 190 calories, 6g protein, 1g fat, 38g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 0g sugar

Benefits Whole grains like farro are a staple of this diet. This grain offers a stellar source of satiating fiber and protein. Whole grains are associated with a reduced risk of a host of diseases, like stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and colorectal cancer.

Greek Yogurt

Per 7 oz container (low-fat plain) 146 calories, 20g protein, 4g fat, 2g saturated fat, 1g monounsaturated fat, 0g polyunsaturated fat, 8g carbs, 0g fiber, 7g sugar

Benefits Dairy is eaten in limited amounts, but these foods serve to supply an excellent source of calcium. Opting for low- or nonfat versions decreases the amount of saturated fat you’re consuming.

Learn More About What to Eat and Avoid on the Mediterranean Diet

A 7-Day Sample Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan

To get an idea of what eating on a Mediterranean diet looks like, check out this sample week of meals, including snack ideas.

Day 1

Breakfast Greek yogurt topped with berries and a drizzle of honey

Snack Handful of almonds

Lunch Tuna on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette made with olive oil

Snack Small bowl of olives

Dinner Small chicken breast over a warm grain salad made with sautéed zucchini, tomato, and farro

Day 2

Breakfast Whole-grain toast with a soft-boiled egg and a piece of fruit

Snack Handful of pistachios

Lunch Lentil salad with roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and an olive oil–based vinaigrette

Snack Hummus with dipping veggies

Dinner Salmon with quinoa and sautéed garlicky greens

Day 3

Breakfast Whipped ricotta topped with walnuts and fruit

Snack Roasted chickpeas

Lunch Tabouli salad with whole-grain pita and hummus

Snack Caprese skewers

Dinner Roasted chicken, gnocchi, and a large salad with vinaigrette

Day 4

Breakfast Fruit with a couple of slices of brie

Snack Cashews and dried fruit

Lunch Lentil soup with whole-grain roll

Snack Tasting plate with olives, a couple slices of cheese, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes

Dinner Whitefish cooked in olive oil and garlic, spiralized zucchini, and a sweet potato

Day 5

Breakfast Omelet made with tomatoes, fresh herbs, and olives

Snack A couple of dates stuffed with almond butter

Lunch A salad topped with white beans, veggies, olives, and a small piece of chicken

Snack A peach and plain Greek yogurt

Dinner Grilled shrimp skewers with roasted Brussels sprouts

Day 6

Breakfast Eggs scrambled with veggies and chives and topped with feta with a slice of whole-grain bread

Snack Greek yogurt

Lunch A quinoa bowl topped with sliced chicken, feta, and veggies

Snack Hummus with veggies

Dinner Grilled seafood, roasted fennel and broccoli, arugula salad, and quinoa

Day 7

Breakfast Veggie frittata

Snack Handful of berries

Lunch A plate of smoked salmon, capers, lemon, whole-grain crackers, and raw veggies

Snack Mashed avocado with lemon and salt, with cucumbers for dipping

Dinner Pasta with red sauce and mussels

Get More Mediterranean Diet Recipe Ideas

4 Tips for Dining Out on the Mediterranean Diet

Heading to a restaurant? Eat the Mediterranean way — and feel satisfied with these tips.

1. Prioritize Vegetables

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables, so look for vegetable-forward dishes, which can often be found in the appetizer, side, and salad section of the menu. Another option is to start your meal with a salad or roasted vegetables.

Ask that they leave off any dressings and drizzle it with olive oil instead.

2. Order the Fish

If you like fish but struggle to eat it at home regularly, order it when you’re out at a restaurant where a chef is preparing it for you. This can be especially impactful if you typically order red meat when out. Go for fatty fish that are packed with omega-3 fatty acids.

Salmon is widely available and easy to find, but you may see tuna and mackerel on the menu, too.

3. Limit Alcohol

If you drink alcohol, skip the margarita or beer and instead opt for an occasional glass of red wine, which can be consumed in moderation with your meal.

Other times, avoid alcohol altogether in favor of a sparkling plain water with a lemon or lime wedge.

4. Nosh on Fruit for Dessert

In many cultures, fresh fruit is traditionally consumed for dessert.

Most restaurants don’t have fresh fruit on their dessert menu, but you can ask if they’re able to bring out a small fruit cup for you to end your meal. Or, say no to the dessert entirely and head home to fix yourself a plate of berries or a few slices of melon.

5 Beginner Tips to Keep in Mind on the Mediterranean Diet

A registered dietitian-nutritionist, whom you can find at Eatright.org, can help you start and stick with the Mediterranean diet, but these tips may also be helpful.

1. Opt for Healthy Fat Sources, and Don’t Go Overboard

By limiting large amounts of red or processed meats and relying heavily on foods that are good sources of monounsaturated fatty acids, like avocado, nuts, or olive oil, you’ll keep saturated fat levels low.

These fats don't lead to high cholesterol the same way saturated fats do. Healthful sources of fat include olive oil, fish oils, and nut-based oils, Cohen explains.

Even with healthy fat, your total fat consumption could be greater than the daily recommended amount if you aren't careful. Aim to get 20 to 35 percent of your total daily caloric intake from fat, and for saturated fats to represent less than 10 percent of your total caloric intake, advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

2. Don’t Skimp on Calcium

Cheese and yogurt provide calcium, but on the Mediterranean diet, you eat these only in moderation. Cohen suggests seeking out nondairy sources of calcium, such as fortified almond milk, sardines, kale, and tofu made with calcium sulfate.

3. Carve Out Time in Your Schedule to Cook

While you don’t have to spend hours in your kitchen, you will need to cook, because the diet is all about working with delicious fresh food. There may be a learning curve as you build these skills.

4. Edit Your Favorite Recipes to Make Them Mediterranean Diet Friendly

It’s evident that with such a variety of whole, fresh foods on the table, it’s easy to build meals with this diet. And you don’t have to eliminate your favorites — they may just require some tweaks. For instance, rather than a sausage and pepperoni pizza, you’d choose one piled high with veggies. You can also fit a lot of different foods into one meal. Filling up on fresh fruit and vegetables will allow you to build volume into meals for fewer calories.

5. Don’t Go Overboard on Alcohol

One hallmark of a Mediterranean diet is that sociable consumption of red wine is thought to be a big reason why the diet is so healthy. But women should still stick to one glass and men two glasses. If you have a history of breast cancer in the family, know that any alcohol consumption raises that risk.

In that case, talk to your doctor to find out what’s right for you.

Resources We Love: Mediterranean Diet

Favorite Organization for Mediterranean Diet Info


This food and nutrition nonprofit serves up great resources for anyone looking to take a deeper dive into the Mediterranean diet. You’ll find print and e-books, such as their 4 Week Menu Plan, a weekly newsletter, and a printable brochure to get started on the diet. The organization also has a Health Studies page, featuring research on the Mediterranean diet’s health benefits.

Favorite Books on the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Beginners: Meal Plans, Expert Guidance, and 100 Recipes to Get You Started

Many cookbooks are dedicated to the Mediterranean diet, but this one stands out because it’s written by the registered dietitian-nutritionist Elena Paravantes, creator of Olivetomato.com. This book not only features need-to-know info on the diet (such as the principles of authentic Mediterranean meal and menu creation) but provides a bevy of mouthwatering recipes that are simple and easy to make, such as Venetian-Style Pasta e Fagioli, Tomato Rice, and Traditional Chicken Cacciatore.

Mediterranean Diet on a Budget: Recipes, Meal Plans, and Tips to Eat Healthfully for as Little as $50 a Week

When you’re starting a new way of eating — and hoping to stick to it for life — it needs to fit within your budget or it won’t work long-term. That’s why Mediterranean Diet on a Budget, by Emily Cooper, RD, is a game-changing book. Cooper admits there are many recipes that require time, a lot of effort, and cost a lot to prepare with specialty ingredients, but the Mediterranean diet doesn’t have to be that way. Her book not only covers tips for eating this way for less, but shares 75 recipes for dishes such as Creamy Banana Date Shake, Pistachio Nice Cream, Garlic Parmesan Smashed Brussels Sprouts, Citrus Poached Cod, and more.

Favorite Blog on the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Dish

Creator Suzy Karadsheh whips up modern Mediterranean recipes that span the Mediterranean and focus on seasonal, whole foods that can be enjoyed with people. You’ll find a plethora of yummy recipes to make tonight — or at your next gathering — from homemade doner kebabs to grilled shrimp with roasted garlic herb sauce, and Mediterranean tuna salad. Her book The Mediterranean Dish is also available for preorder, out September 2022.

Favorite App for Following the Mediterranean Diet

Lifesum: Healthy Eating

This app, which is available on the App Store and Google Play, allows you to track food, calories, and macronutrients in order to stay in step with your goals. Even better: It also features specific diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, with meal plans, access to a recipe library, and nutrition information and meal ratings. Though the app is free, the Mediterranean diet and meal plan requires subscribing to the Premium membership.


A diet only works if it’s doable. That means you and everyone in your family can eat in this style no matter where you go (to a restaurant for dinner, to a family event). With its flavors and variety of foods that don’t cut out any food group, the Mediterranean diet is one such eating plan.

What’s more, there are numerous health benefits — from dementia, heart disease, and cancer prevention to potential weight loss and protection from diabetes complications.

"It is an appealing diet that one can stay with for a lifetime,” Cohen says.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

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