The Lowdown on Popular Diets: Mediterranean Edition

The Mediterranean Diet has gained national media attention for many years and is regularly cited as one of the healthiest diets to follow. It continually ranks high (often number 1) on the U.S. News and World Report diet rankings for best overall diet, easiest diet to follow, and best diet for general healthy eating, diabetes, and heart health. 

If you’re considering shifting your eating habits to be more like the Mediterranean Diet, here’s what you’ll want to know. 

What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is based on the way people in traditional Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy eat. It’s a flexible eating plan that emphasizes plant foods and fish, while still including some animal foods. It takes into account lifestyle habits as well, promoting regular movement and enjoying meals with others. 

What can I eat?
The diet prioritizes vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and suggests that these are the foundation of every meal. It’s recommended to eat fish or seafood at least twice a week, and poultry and dairy can be enjoyed in moderate portions daily to weekly. Red meat and sweets are considered to be “sometimes” foods, so those are included less often. Healthy fats like olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados are encouraged as the primary fat sources in the diet. 

What’s off limits?
Processed foods, added sugars (including sweetened beverages), trans fats, refined grains, refined oils, and processed meats are discouraged. 

Is there anything else to consider?
The Mediterranean Diet allows flexibility in food choices and is not overly restrictive, unlike many other popular diets. Because it does not restrict entire food groups and does not require counting or tracking, it’s considered one of the easiest diets to follow and is a sustainable approach to eating for the long haul. The wide variety of foods included in the Mediterranean diet also make it easy to follow in social situations, while eating out at restaurants, and on vacation. It also is easy to meet all of your nutrient needs through food. 

The Mediterranean Diet is less of a “diet” and more of a holistic lifestyle approach to wellness. Regular movement, a social life including sharing meals, sleep, and stress management are considered important in addition to enjoying this plant-forward diet based on whole foods. 

If you want to know the science…
Numerous studies, including several large randomized control trials (the gold standard in nutrition research) have linked the Mediterranean diet to good health. In particular, it has been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. There is also a strong relationship with lower inflammation and long-term weight management. 


Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to be medical advice and if you are considering starting a new diet, work with your healthcare team to find the best approach for you. 


Read about other popular diets in this series:


The Ketogenic Diet

Whole 30

Intermittent Fasting


The Paleo Diet