What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, legumes and olive oil are just a few of the components of the Mediterranean diet. This diet has been a trending topic recently; in January, the U.S. News Best Diets’ report was released and the Mediterranean snagged multiple top spots.

Research has revealed some important heart health benefits—one five-year study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who followed this diet had a 30 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who ate a low-fat diet. Get the low down on what foods you’ll find in this increasingly popular diet.

Mediterranean diet: veggies, olives, fish, grains, and more

The Basics

First, it’s important to note that the Mediterranean diet isn’t a formal eating plan. Unlike diets like Atkins, the Mediterranean diet is a way of eating—without hard and fast rules. Below you’ll find the gist of the “diet,” but please be open to fluctuations.

Veggies, veggies and veggies. The big reason why this diet landed the #1 Best Plant-Based Diet on U.S. News Best Diets’ report—is because, you guessed it, the focus of this diet is nutrient-packed veggies. This can be done by opting for plant-based snacks and eating mostly vegetarian meals. Choose a variety like tomatoes, artichokes, arugula, cucumbers, broccoli, peppers, spinach and eggplant.

Olive oil and nuts. Those who eat “Mediterranean,” choose the healthy, unsaturated fat in olive oil, over butter for cooking. You can also use olive oil for dressings—but always buy a trusted, organic brand.

Fish, poultry and eggs. Seafood is a part of this diet—about a couple times a week. And it’s best to broil, bake or grill your fish instead of frying or breading. (Be sure to select fish that is low in mercury like wild-caught Alaskan salmon, freshwater Coho salmon or Atlantic mackerel.) Like fish, poultry and eggs can be eaten in moderation. Select organic, free-range and antibiotic-free.

Whole grains. While some diets, like Paleo, steer clear of grains, small amounts of whole grains are found in the Mediterranean diet, such as oats, barley, rye and brown rice.

Legumes and nuts. Great sources of fat, protein and carbs; legumes are a good way to create a vegetarian main dish. Try different varieties of beans like fava and garbanzo (chickpeas), peas and lentils. Also, organic nuts are also found on the Mediterranean list—but should be enjoyed in moderation.

Fruits. Certain fruits are popular in the Mediterranean way of eating, such as apples, olives, apricots, peaches, figs, cherries, avocados, grapes and pears.

Yogurt and cheese. Low to moderate amounts of yogurt and cheeses are found in Mediterranean dishes and meals—namely, brie, chevre, manchego, ricotta, pecorino, feta and Greek yogurt.

Spices and herbs. Mediterranean cooking relies heavily on spices and herbs for flavor, rather than fat and salt. Common spices and herbs you’ll find: basil, bay leaf, oregano, cloves, cumin, garlic, sage, tarragon and parsley.

Red meat. People in the Mediterranean region limit their consumption of red meat to around once or twice a month; they also select lean cuts and enjoy very small portions. 

Some other important things to note about this way of eating—portion size is important, larger portions should consist of vegetables and legumes; eat foods in moderation and be sure to balance your meals; stick to healthy exercise plans; and enjoy meals slowly and in the company of others.