What is a Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy style of eating. It features foods eaten in Greece, Spain, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. It emphasizes eating fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil. These foods are rich in fiber and healthy fats. The diet limits meat, cheese, and sweets.
The fats allowed in this diet are mainly unsaturated fats. These include fish oils, olive oil, and certain seed oils (such as canola, soybean, and flaxseed) and nut oils (walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds). These types of oils may have a protective effect on the heart.
Most other heart-healthy diets recommend getting less than 35% of your calories from fat. But in the Mediterranean diet, an average of 35% to 40% of calories can come from healthy fats.
What are the benefits?
A Mediterranean-style diet may improve heart health. It contains more fat than other heart-healthy diets. But the fats are mainly from nuts, unsaturated oils (such as fish oils and olive oil), and certain nut or seed oils (such as canola, soybean, or flaxseed oil). These fats may help protect the heart and blood vessels.
How can you make it part of your eating plan?
Here's how to eat a traditional Mediterranean diet.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables each day.
Healthy choices include grapes, blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, figs, olives, spinach, and eggplant.
- Have a variety of whole-grain foods each day.
Include grains such as oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread, pasta, and couscous.
- Choose healthy (unsaturated) fats.
- Healthy fat sources include nuts, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils like canola, soybean, and flaxseed.
- About 35% to 40% of daily calories can come from fat, mainly from unsaturated fats.
- Limit unhealthy (saturated) fats.
These include butter, palm oil, coconut oil, and fats found in animal products, such as meat and dairy products made with whole milk.
- Eat mostly vegetarian meals.
Make meals that include whole grains, beans, lentils, and vegetables.
- Have fish at least 2 times a week.
Good choices include tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines.
- Eat moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products.
These include low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Eat moderate amounts of poultry and eggs.
- Limit red meat to only a few times a month.
And have it in very small amounts. For example, a serving of meat is 3 ounces. That's about the size of a deck of cards.
- Limit sweets and desserts.
Have them only a few times a week. This includes sugar-sweetened drinks like soda.
- If you drink alcohol, include red wine with your meal if you like.
Limit wine to 1 glass a day if you're a woman and 2 glasses a day if you're a man.
Current as of: May 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator