What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is similar to the cuisine of countries along the Mediterranean Sea. There is no single definition of the diet, but you will eat mostly plant based foods. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has shown the Mediterranean diet to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death related to heart problems by 30%. The diet can be used as a long term diet pattern to promote health, control blood sugar and prevent chronic disease.

What kinds of foods are included in the Mediterranean diet?

You will eat mostly plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, potatoes, whole-grains, beans, nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil. Meals are planned around these foods. The diet also includes moderate amounts of lean poultry, fish, seafood, dairy and eggs. You should avoid fried foods, sweets, red meats and white flour products.

The following information will clarify details about the Mediterranean diet, such as which foods to pick and how much of each food to eat. You will also find how to include these foods into your diet.

What are the key components of the Mediterranean diet?

FoodServing GoalWays to Incorporate
Fresh fruits and vegetables3 servings fruit per day
(1 serving = 1/2 cup to 1 cup)
3+ servings vegetables per day
(1 serving = 1/2 cup cooked
or 1 cup raw)
Have at least 1 serving at each meal or choose as a snack.
Legumes (beans and lentils)3 servings per week
(1 serving = 1/2 cup)
Add to salad, soups and pasta dishes; try hummus or bean dip for veggies or a veggie or bean burger.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)At least 1 Tbsp per day
(no more than 4 Tbsp per day)
Use instead of vegetable oil and animal fats (butter, sour cream, mayonnaise). Drizzle on salads, cooked vegetables, pasta or as a dip for bread.
Fish (especially fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids)3 servings per week
(1 serving = 3 to 4 ounces)
Fish rich in omega-3s include salmon, sardines, herring, tuna and mackerel.
Nuts: Ideally, walnuts, almonds and hazelnutsAt least 3 servings per week
(1 serving = 1 ounce or 1/4 cup
or 2 Tbsp nut butter)
Add to hot or cold cereal, salad and yogurt. Choose raw, unsalted and dry roasted varieties alone or with dried fruit as a snack.
Whole grains and
starchy vegetables
(potatoes, peas and corn)
3 to 6 servings per day
(1 serving = 1/2 cup cooked; 1 slice of bread; or 1 ounce of
dry cereal)
Choose oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, or a baked or roasted red skin or sweet potato. Choose whole grain bread, cereal, couscous and pasta.
Poultry (white meat)Choose white meat instead of dark meat.Choose skinless white meat poultry that is baked, broiled
or grilled.
DairyChoose fat-free or low-fat dairy products.Choose fat-free or 1% milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Choose natural, light, or part-skim cheese. Avoid whole-milk dairy, cream, and cream-based sauces and dressings.
EggsLimit egg yolks; have up to 1 yolk per day.No limit on egg whites. If you have high cholesterol, consult an MD or RD for specific recommendations on egg yolks, or limit to no more than 4 yolks per week.
Red meat
(beef, pork, veal and lamb)
None
(no more than 1 serving per week; 1 serving = 3 ounces)

Limit to lean cuts, such as

tenderloin, sirloin and flank steak

Wine (optional)

1 to 2 glasses per day
(1 glass = 3.5 ounces.)

Limit to one serving per day for women and two servings per day for men.

If you do not drink, the American Heart Association cautions people NOT to start drinking. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation.
Baked goods and dessertsAvoid commercial baked goods/sweets and desserts. Limit homemade goods to less than 3 times/week. Instead, choose fruit and nonfat yogurt.Bake using liquid oil instead of solid fats; whole grain flour instead of bleached or enriched flour; and egg whites instead of whole eggs.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/19/2019.

References

  • Expert knowledge and experience of healthcare providers at Cleveland Clinic
  • American Heart Association. Mediterranean Diet. Accessed 12/26/2019.
  • Estruch R, Ros E, Salas Salvado J, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented with Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Nuts. New Engl J Med 2018; 378:e34.

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