Can you improve your health and lose weight following the Mediterranean diet?
You may think that eating the Mediterranean way is expensive, time-consuming and requires you to buy lots of special ingredients.
Maybe you think that following the Mediterranean diet will feel like you have to go shopping and cook every day… but…
You can actually follow the Mediterranean diet by introducing a simple Mediterranean meal plan and taking just a little time to cook Mediterranean diet recipes.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet and Why You Can’t Ignore It
The Mediterranean diet first came to widespread attention in the 1950s when studies showed that heart disease was less common in the Mediterranean regions than in the United States.
The Mediterranean diet isn’t a restricted diet or a weight loss plan, but it does promote weight loss and prevents heart disease, type 2 diabetes and strokes.
It also reduces levels of inflammation and helps to prevent dementia.
These days, it is widely known as the best diet to promote longevity and good health.
The Mediterranean diet is based on locally sourced foods from the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea such as Spain, Italy and Greece (also known as blue zones).
Mediterranean diet recipes change from region to region, but they share some important elements. The main foods always include vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, healthy fats such as olive oil, whole grains, legumes, fish and small quantities of meat and dairy foods.
Red wine is consumed regularly but in small amounts.
The Mediterranean diet is often recommended to those looking to improve their overall health and to prevent chronic conditions.
The Hidden Mediterranean Diet Benefits Nobody Tells You About
The Mediterranean Diet Promotes Heart Health.
The Mediterranean diet is high in plant-based foods, is abundant in good fats from olive oil, and low in saturated fats from meat and diaries.
This combination of foods reduces plaque build-up in the arteries even more than a low-fat diet. It also reduces high blood pressure and ‘bad cholesterol’, reducing mortality from heart disease (1, 2 & 3).
The Mediterranean Diet Protects Brain Function.
Nuts and seeds are high in monounsaturated fats, which help to fight inflammation.
You can also find these beneficial fats in fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines or salmon, which contain omega-3 fatty acids.
All these nutrients contribute to the good health of the brain. Several studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet improves memory and reduces risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Mediterranean diet also protects you by reducing the risk of dementia as you get older and improves attention and processing speed (4, 5, 6).
The Mediterranean Diet Improves Sleep Quality.
The Mediterranean Diet is not only fantastic for the heart and the brain, but also for improving your sleep.
One of the reasons for this is because the Mediterranean diet is high in fibre, melatonin, serotonin and vitamin D, which enhance sleep patterns.
The Mediterranean Diet Cuts the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
The Mediterranean Diet will keep you away from chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
A Mediterranean-style diet can also help people who already have type 2 diabetes to avoid complications related to the condition (7).
This is because the Mediterranean diet is high in fibre, which helps with weight loss and improves blood glucose management.
The Mediterranean Diet May Cut the Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Although the Mediterranean diet is high in fats, the types of fats found in this diet such as fats from nuts, olive oil and fatty fish, help to reduce inflammation (8).
These fats protect the immune system against inflammation and can help to reduce symptoms of IBD (9).
Personally, I like to try and test different ingredients, as certain foods in the Mediterranean diet, such as whole grains, might not be suitable for Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Can You Lose Weight on a Mediterranean Diet?
Whereas some health benefits such as Alzheimer’s or dementia prevention are more of a long-term advantage of a Mediterranean diet, you can start noticing weight loss almost straight away due to the high amount of fibre, proteins and healthy fats.
Is the Mediterranean Diet Good for My Mental Health?
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruit and vegetables, which will make you feel better not only physically but mentally.
Raw fruit, fresh berries, as well as veggies such as spinach, kale, and cucumber will give you a mental lift, which will improve your mood.
How to Start a Mediterranean Diet Without Failing?
Essentially, eating the Mediterranean way means eating what people eat in the Mediterranean regions.
You’ll have to get fresh foods and cook them.
Make sure to consume plenty of vegetables and raw fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, fish, meat and eggs.
Eat with your family or friends and savour every bite.
What Foods Are Not Allowed on the Mediterranean Diet?
- Avoid processed or packaged foods.
- Food containing sugars, such as cakes, pastries, soda drinks and sweets.
- Trans fats found in margarine and other processed foods.
- Processed meats, e.g. hot dogs and deli meats.
- Refined grains such as white bread, white pasta, pizza containing white flour.
What’s on a Mediterranean Diet Food List?
- Healthy fats – make sure to cook with olive oil
- Eat more legumes such as lentils and chickpeas
- Eat more fish, such as salmon
- Eat veggies in all your meals
- Help yourself to whole grains
- Snack on nuts, Greek yoghurt
- Enjoy fruit for breakfast and dessert
- Sip (a little) wine
What Do Mediterraneans Eat for Breakfast?
A Mediterranean breakfast is usually a quick, savoury meal.
In Spain and Italy, whole grain toast with olive oil and tomato, cheese, a piece of fruit and orange juice is most common.
In Greece, a piece of paximadia (bread made of chickpea, whole wheat and barley) with olives and cheese is the most popular.
Mediterranean people in general like some natural yoghurt, nuts and fruit for breakfast.
What Do Mediterraneans Eat for Lunch?
Mediterranean lunch recipes contain plenty of fresh veggies, spices and protein.
Greek Salad: the main protein is feta cheese, and the salad also includes cucumber, onion and olives, spiced with some oregano and cherry vinegar or lemon for the dressing.
Tuna salad is popular in Spain and you can have it on its own for lunch. You can use white canned tuna or canned bonito.
Beet and carrots salad with walnuts and goat cheese – this is one of my favourites, it has colourful winter veggies and it’s crunchy.
Lebanese hummus is also delicious and inexpensive to make at home using extra virgin olive oil. Homemade hummus is better as the ones in the shop contain canola oil.
Grilled fish and salad or grilled chicken or lamb with salad are also popular Mediterranean lunches. Any version can be also combined with rice and pickled veggies.
You can also have a Mediterranean meat or fish stew for lunch. Add plenty of veggies and any white fish or chicken, lamb or beef.
In Spain, having paella on the weekend is quite popular, you can choose between seafood or meat paella, you can also have a vegetarian or vegan paella.
Paella is a great recipe to enjoy with family and friends in the most authentic Mediterranean style.
Find my favourite seafood paella recipe to make at home for 2-4 people here: paella recipe.
What Do Mediterraneans Eat for Dinner?
A Mediterranean dinner recipe is normally a light meal. Having fish for dinner is more popular than having meat.
Mediterranean quinoa bowls with avocado, olives, tuna and roasted red peppers.
Mediterranean tuna couscous with tuna and cherry tomatoes.
Salmon with garlic and thyme – bake it in the oven for 12 minutes and serve with a salad.
Lemon chicken and asparagus – grill it with some nuts and spices.
Vegetable stuffed portobello mushrooms – you can add onion and peppers and top with some cheese.
Baked sweet potatoes – cut in slices and bake for 30 minutes with some olive oil, salt and pepper.
Pil pil cod – you can add some roasted peppers with it.
Chickpea salad – add some tomatoes, onion and basil for extra flavour.
Do Mediterraneans Snack Between Meals?
Absolutely, yes! Some of the most popular snacks:
- Apples with peanut butter
- Melon and serrano ham
- Avocado on toast
- Hummus with carrot sticks
- Handful of nuts
- Greek yoghurt
What Cheat Meals Do Mediterraneans Eat? Here Are Some Meals That Will Get Your Mouth Watering
The Mediterranean diet is not a restrictive diet, it’s a lifestyle.
If you follow the Mediterranean diet in most of your meals, you’ll improve your eating habits and overall health.
Mediterranean cheat meals can be:
- Sweet potato fries
- Popcorn (only salty ones, no butter or sugar on it)
- Mediterranean pizza made with whole wheat flour, cheese, veggies and olives
Check this link for more ideas on Mediterranean cheat meals and snacks.
Which Beverages Are the Most Popular in a Mediterranean Diet?
- Water should be your go-to drink on a Mediterranean diet.
- A glass a day of red wine is common in a Mediterranean lifestyle but this is not compulsory, as you should avoid alcohol as much as possible, especially if you’re pregnant or you take medications.
- Coffee and tea are also great choices in the Mediterranean diet, but in moderation, as large quantities of caffeine can make you anxious.
- Also avoid adding sugar and cream to your cup of coffee/tea.
- Rather than soda drinks high in sugar and additives, drink fresh juices with no added sugar.
Mediterranean Diet 7-Day Meal Plan PDF
- Breakfast: oatmeal with raisins, nuts and apple slices
- Lunch: baked aubergine with anchovy sauce
- Dinner: Greek salad (with olives, cucumber and feta cheese), seasoned with cherry vinegar
- Breakfast: omelette with garlic and mushrooms
- Lunch: quinoa salad with chickpeas, beetroot and carrots
- Dinner: Tuna salad (with peppers, carrots and avocado), seasoned with lemon and turmeric
- Breakfast: Greek yoghurt with sliced fruit, nuts, honey and cinnamon
- Lunch: bolognese with whole grain pasta or rice noodles and veggies
- Dinner: grilled salmon with broccoli and baked sweet potatoes
- Breakfast: oatmeal with almond butter, honey and berries
- Lunch: Mediterranean lemon chicken with sweet potato fries and salad
- Dinner: mussels with white wine sauce
- Breakfast: omelette with onion and peppers
- Lunch: grilled lamb with sweet potato fries and salad
- Dinner: cod with roasted red peppers and baked potatoes
- Breakfast: banana pancakes with apple slices and almond butter
- Lunch: stuffed zucchini with pesto and grilled chicken
- Dinner: Mediterranean pizza with veggies and olives
- Breakfast: avocado on toast with scrambled eggs
- Lunch: seafood paella (with king prawns, mussels and squid)
- Dinner: mozzarella and tomato salad
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How to Follow the Mediterranean Diet Eating Out
The Mediterranean diet also recommends eating with family and friends as much as possible, and eating out is a great way to do so.
Social interaction is a big part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. If you haven’t checked out this blog yet, learn the health benefits of social connections found in the Mediterranean regions here.
Turkish restaurants are my favourite places to eat out. Mediterranean Turkish recipes are great. The starters are full of colour with baked, fresh or pickled veggies or hummus.
Dishes such as grilled salmon, lamb or chicken always come with rice and delicious salads.
You can always order heartier dishes during winter, such as lamb stews and mousakkas.
The combination of good quality veggies, spices and well cooked meat and fish makes Turkish meals my first choice when eating out.
I’ve also found great choices in Mexican restaurants, where you can get chicken fajitas or their Peruvian cousins, where I usually order fish ceviche.
The Mediterranean Diet Shopping List That Will Make Your Life Easier
- VEGETABLES: kale, spinach, broccoli, beetroot, carrots, peppers, courgettes, aubergines, garlic, onions, mushrooms
- FRUIT: apples, pears, peaches, oranges, melon, watermelon, grapes, berries
- LEGUMES: chickpeas, lentils, beans
- POULTRY: chicken, turkey
- EGGS: chicken and duck eggs
- FISH: salmon, seabass, mackerel, tuna, bonito, sardines, anchovies
- SEAFOOD: prawns, mussels, squid, crab, shrimps, oysters, clams
- CANNED FOOD: tuna, stuffed peppers, olives, bonito, anchovies, chopped tomatoes
- FROZEN FOOD: frozen fruit, seafood, fish, veggies etc.
- NUTS: almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts
- SEEDS: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds
- SPICES: cinnamon, turmeric, salt, pepper, cayenne, oregano
- DAIRY PRODUCTS: Greek yoghurt, cheese
- HEALTHY FATS: extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nut oils
- WHOLE GRAINS: whole grain pasta, whole grain rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, oats (ALSO GLUTEN FREE OPTIONS)
- POTATOES: baking potatoes, sweet potatoes
What Are the Cons of a Mediterranean Diet?
- You have to make time to cook Mediterranean recipes. It should be part of your daily routine.
- The Mediterranean diet is about getting fresh sources of food daily. You can start small with one homemade meal a day and increase it as you build your cooking skills.
- You can also learn how to batch cook to always have food available by only cooking once a week. Most Mediterranean dishes are easy to make with only a few ingredients.
- You still need to check your fat intake: don’t add lots of olive oil when you fry something. Healthy fats are great, but in moderation.
- Control alcohol consumption: drinking a glass of red wine while socialising is great for your health but don’t overdo it. Stick to one glass and remember this isn’t compulsory – it’s great if you don’t drink at all.
- Milk is limited. You’ll get calcium from other sources such as kale, sardines, fortified almond milk, cheese and greek yoghurt.
The Bottom Line
It’s time to put your Mediterranean diet skills into action.
Remember that the Mediterranean diet is associated with weight loss and other health benefits like enhancing brain and gut function and stabilising blood sugar levels.
Start with small steps to get used to the Mediterranean style of cooking, eating and living.
- You have learned that you need to eat more fruits when you snack and try to make a side salad with your meals.
- The main foods in the Mediterranean diet are vegetables, fruits, spices and the use of extra virgin olive oil.
- Mediterranean meals use high portions of plant foods with a low portion of animal foods, giving especial importance to fish and seafood.
- Download the pdf and use the meal plan for a few weeks.
And remember, the Mediterranean diet isn’t defined as one thing. It is as varied as all the regions that surround the Mediterranean Sea.
You can also get inspiration by checking recipes from different Mediterranean countries or combining different recipes to create your own.
Check out my book to get inspired with more Mediterranean diet recipes from Spain: