Several decades ago, researchers observed that the poorest people living in rural Italy tended to be healthier than even the wealthiest people living in New York City — and it was theorized that a lot of this was due to differences in diet.[*]
This intriguing research finding would eventually lead us to the Mediterranean Diet, a balanced (moderate fat, moderate protein, moderate carb) diet based on the traditional, minimally processed diet of people in the Mediterranean.
Today, the Mediterranean Diet is one of the most highly recommended diets for overall health — but what exactly should you eat on this diet?
Although “Mediterranean” is in the name, you’re not limited only to food available in that region of the world. We’ve assembled this comprehensive Mediterranean Diet food list to help you stock your pantry with everything you’ll need to be successful. The number one rule? Never run out of olive oil.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating based on the traditional diet eaten in Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy.
It’s now widely touted as one of the best eating patterns for heart health. Over the past few decades, the diet has been studied extensively.
- Inclusion of fatty fish, shellfish, and lean meats
- Emphasis on a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Inclusion of nuts and seeds
- Inclusion of fiber-rich, minimally processed carbohydrates like legumes, potatoes, and some grains
- Higher healthy fat intake, particularly olive oil
However, there are many different ways to do the Mediterranean Diet correctly. In fact, we’ve written a guide to Mediterranean Keto, if that’s something you’re interested in learning more about.
There’s been a great deal of research on the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. In fact, there have been so many studies that there are many recent larger studies called meta-analyses available. A meta-analysis takes the data from numerous studies and compiles it to provide a clearer understanding of the potential benefit of something — in this case, the Mediterranean Diet.
Recent meta-analyses of the Mediterranean Diet have shown that it may offer the following benefits:
Who Should Try It?
The diet is particularly well-suited for pescatarians or people who eat fish but no other types of meat.
It’s also a great healthy eating pattern for families with children because it’s very flexible and you’re able to incorporate many different types of foods (some of which may be more appealing to kids than others).
Who Should Avoid It?
The Mediterranean Diet focuses heavily on plant foods, some of which people with these conditions may feel better avoiding.
Still, there are ways to tweak the Mediterranean Diet so it can suit almost any dietary need or restriction.
Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
The Mediterranean Diet makes meal planning really, really simple. To plan Mediterranean meals, just make sure that each of your meals contains some fish or lean meat, fruits or vegetables, healthy carbs, and healthy fat. Here’s a table with some easy build-your-own meal ideas:
Mediterranean Diet Food List
Interested in moving towards a more Mediterranean-style eating pattern? A good place to start is making sure you have a well-stocked pantry. With the right ingredients on hand, you can use the meal planning formula above to make countless combinations of quick, easy, and healthy Mediterranean meals.
Here’s our comprehensive Mediterranean Diet shopping list, and a handy PDF version to print and keep.
- Fish, including salmon, tuna, cod, sardines, anchovies, trout, catfish, etc.
- Shellfish, including crabs, lobster, shrimp, clams, oysters, squid, octopus, etc.
- Lean beef
- Lean pork
- Wild game (elk, bison)
Nuts and Seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Peanuts (technically a legume, but used as a tree nut)
- Macadamia nuts
- Full-fat yogurt
- Cheeses in moderation
- Full-fat milk in moderation
- Yellow squash
- Bell pepper
- Winter squash
- Green onion
- Hot peppers
- Greens (collard, mustard, turnip)
- Snap peas
- Green beans
- Snow peas
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Salad greens (lettuce, arugula)
- Honeydew melon
Some iterations of the Mediterranean Diet include whole grain wheat and wheat products like bread and pasta. We haven’t included these because of the many known downsides of most wheat products. However, you may choose to include these foods in your Mediterranean Diet.
- Sweet potatoes
- Rice or brown rice
- Minimally processed soy products (tofu, tempeh, natto)
- Black beans
- Great Northern beans
- Pinto beans
- Navy beans
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Sesame oil
- Dark chocolate
- Red wine (in moderation)
- Vinegars (Balsamic, red wine, white, apple cider, rice, etc.)
- Herbs and spices
- Meat and vegetable broths
How to Start the Mediterranean Diet
Ready to start cooking? Now that your Mediterranean pantry is fully stocked, it’s time to peruse Carb Manager for some recipes. As a Premium Member, you’ll have access to our full library of Mediterranean Diet recipes (and all of our other recipes, too).
Here are a few of our favorite Mediterranean diet recipes, to help you get started: