A Beginner’s Guide To Mediterranean Diet, According To Experts

Written by Charushila Biswas
ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition

If you want to look younger and live longer, the Mediterranean diet is for you. A 25-year follow-up study on dietary patterns shows that the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases than the dietary patterns followed in north European countries and the US (1). It has also proved to be beneficial in reducing the risk of many other health issues. The best part – this diet includes delicious foods and is easy to sustain. No wonder dieters and dietitians approve of it!

We have created the ultimate beginner’s guide to the Mediterranean diet with expert advice from dietitians and doctors, including a foods list, a 7-day diet plan, and benefits. Scroll down to get all the details!

Definition: What Is A Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy dietary pattern followed by the people of the Mediterranean countries (2). Holly Klamer, MS, RDN, says, “The Mediterranean Diet emphasises consuming heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.” She adds, “Following the Mediterranean Diet has been associated with reduced mortality risk and lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.” (3)

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve the life expectancy of people in some parts of the Middle East and countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, Crete, and southern France. It also reduces the risk of chronic diseases and improved general well-being (4). Below, you will find a list of reasons why the Mediterranean diet is good for you. Take a look.

Benefits: Why Is A Mediterranean Diet Good For You?

1. Good For Your Heart

The modern-day diet mainly includes saturated fats and trans fats that cause various heart issues. The Mediterranean diet includes fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and lots of vegetables and fruits, reducing cholesterol levels, improving heart health, and preventing ischemic stroke (5), (6).

Dr. Carrie Lam, MD, FAAMFM, ABAARM, confirms, “This diet improves blood sugar levels, reduces inflammation, and body mass index (BMI), which helps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.”

2. Facilitates Weight Loss

Obesity and excess weight gain due to over consumption of food and a sedentary lifestyle are the most common reasons for many health complications worldwide. Dr. Carrie Lam says, “The Mediterranean diet is not necessarily a weight loss-centered diet, though it may help you to lose weight.”

This diet pattern controls excess calorie intake, reduces hunger (due to high-fiber content), and lowers BMI (7).  It is safe to say that weight loss through the Mediterranean diet is a byproduct of choosing nutritious foods over processed and junk food.

3. Good For Controlling Diabetes

Dietary and lifestyle modifications have shown favourable results in diabetes management. A 6-month study about the effects of following a Mediterranean dietary pattern on people with type 2 diabetes showed better glycemic control and lower cholesterol levels and body weight compared to other diets. Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of future diabetes by 19%-23% (8).

4. Improves Brain Health

The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish. Rachel Fine, RD and Nutrition Counsellor, says, “Omega-3 fatty acids are found in flax seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish. They have anti-inflammatory properties, and omega-3 fats are metabolised into EPA and DHA, which are powerful nutrients for brain health.”

Research shows that higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment  (7).

5. Regulates Blood Pressure Levels

The Mediterranean diet excludes red meat, processed, and junk foods. Adhering to this diet reduces the risk of hypertension, which is primarily caused due to higher salt consumption through processed foods, higher BMI, and high cholesterol levels due to consuming red meat and saturated fats (9).

A study published in the Journal of Hypertension confirmed that the Mediterranean diet is an effective dietary strategy to control blood pressure levels (10).

6. May Reduce The Risk Of Cancer

According to Dr. Carrie Lam, “The Mediterranean diet has proven to reduce risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

Multiple scientific studies show that the Mediterranean diet can help reduce the risk of cancers of the breast, head, neck, colon, rectum, prostate, liver, and stomach. This diet also reduces cancer mortality rate (3), (7).

7. Improves Sexual Function In Women

Metabolic syndromes like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular conditions can affect sexual function in women. A study showed that women who adhered to a Mediterranean diet had a better sexual function index than those who did not (11). Therefore, this could be a potential dietary strategy to improve sexual function in women with metabolic syndrome.

8. Reduces Inflammation

Chronic inflammation can increase the risk of obesity and arthritis and lower immunity (12). A Mediterranean-style diet rich in omega-3-fatty acids helps reduce inflammation, reducing the risk of diseases and other health conditions (13), (14). Other foods like vegetables and fruits included in the diet also have antioxidant properties that reduce inflammation.

9. Promotes Healthy Aging

Aging is inevitable. However, with the right diet and lifestyle, you can slow down the aging process. A Mediterranean diet excludes all processed foods and includes omega-3-rich and antioxidant-rich foods that aid in healthy aging and improve the quality of life.

Studies show that this diet decreases early cardiovascular risks and onset of frailty (reduced physical resilience) due to aging (15). It also improves physical agility and mobility and reduces the risk of age-related diseases, contributing to healthy aging (16).

10. Improves Mental Health

Mediterranean diet is also good for improving your mental health. A study showed that adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet could reduce inflammation and protect against depression (17). Another study conducted on Spanish students confirmed that a Mediterranean-style diet improved their emotional well-being (18).

The Mediterranean diet can help you change and improve your overall quality of life. And to do so, you need to eat the right foods and avoid processed foods. Go to the next section to get a consolidated list of Mediterranean foods.

Foods List: What To Eat And Avoid On A Mediterranean Diet

Foods To EatFoods To Avoid
 Vegetables – Leafy greens, broccoli, carrot, beetroot, scallion, chive, yam, sweet potato, bell peppers, cucumber, eggplant, tomato, spring onions, onion, celery, Brussels sprouts, and fennel. Refined CarbsWhite sugar, white bread, refined flour, pasta, bagels, and croissant.
 Fruits – Apple, banana, watermelon, peach, avocado, muskmelon, pear, kiwi, raw mango, lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, java plum, strawberry, blueberry, acai berry, blackberry, mulberry, plum, date, and apricot. Processed Foods – Sausage, salami, frozen foods, canned foods, ready-to-eat foods, chicken nuggets, and cheese sticks.
 Whole Grains – Whole wheat bread, wheat pasta, oats, barley, millet, wheat, broken wheat, quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum.
 
 Sugary And Salty Foods  Cake, pastry, doughnuts, wafers, candies, caramel, flavoured hot or cold coffee, milk chocolate, packaged iced tea, maple syrup, pickle, kimchi, added salt, packaged sauces, and high fructose corn syrup.
 Proteins – Fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel, crab, mussels, clam, lobster, shrimp, mushrooms, tofu, lentils, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and hummus. Protein – Red meat and chicken with skin.
 Healthy FatsOlive oil, avocado oil, rice bran oil, almond, walnut, pistachios, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds,  melon seeds, sunflower butter, ghee, and peanut butter and almond butter (in moderation). Fats, Oils, & Trans Fats  Lard, margarine, butter, vegetable oil, mayonnaise, chips, and fried foods.
 Dairy – Milk, plain yogurt, and cheese. Dairy  Flavoured yogurt, processed cheese, and non-dairy whiteners.
 Beverages – Water, tea, or coffee without sugar and cream, freshly pressed fruit/vegetable juices. Beverages  Excess alcohol, packaged fruit and vegetable juices, sports drinks, and soft drinks.

Along with the foods list, having a well-planned diet chart is crucial for any beginner to kick start the Mediterranean diet. Scroll down to get your 7-day Mediterranean diet plan that you can download for future reference.

Diet Plan: A 7-Day Mediterranean Diet Plan For Beginners

Day 1

Breakfast: Kale and celery smoothie + 1 boiled egg+ 4 almonds
Lunch: Tuna/tofu, tomato, cucumber, and lettuce salad + 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
Snack: 1 cup watermelon, feta cheese, and mint salad
Dinner: 1 cup lentil soup + ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables + 1 cup of milk before bed

Day 2

Breakfast: Avocado toast with soft-boiled eggs/sesame seeds + 1 cup of tea
Lunch: 3 oz grilled fish/ 3-4 slices of eggplant + 1 cup of cooked veggies + 1 cup of buttermilk
Snack: Baby carrots and hummus + 1 cup of tea
Dinner: Kidney beans with brown rice with a side of veggies + 1 small cup of yogurt

Day 3

Breakfast: ½ cup of vegetable quinoa + ½ grapefruit + 4 almonds
Lunch: 1 cup of quinoa and bell pepper salad + 1 hard-boiled egg
Snack: 1 cup of mixed fruits
Dinner: ½ cup of chickpea curry + 2 whole wheat bread slices + 1 cup of cucumber and tomato salad

Day 4

Breakfast: 1 cup of oatmeal with seasonal fruits, almond shavings, and melon seeds
Lunch: 2 crab cakes or grilled tofu + 1 cup of mixed greens + ½ cup of raw or cooked veggies
Snack: 1 cup of freshly pressed juice (with the pulp) + 10 unsalted pistachios
Dinner: 1 cup of chicken/mushroom clear soup + ½ cup of boiled veggies

Day 5

Breakfast: Shakshuka + 1 cup of coffee + 4 walnuts
Lunch: ½ cup of sprout salad + ½ cup of cooked veggies
Snack: 1 cup of tea + 1 digestive biscuit
Dinner: Broccoli and mushroom casserole + 1 cup of mixed leafy greens

Day 6

Breakfast: Whole wheat bread toast with peanut butter and banana + 1 cup of tea
Lunch: Zucchini, bell pepper, olives, and mushroom wheat pasta with olive oil
Snack: ½ cup of grapefruit salad
Dinner: 3 oz grilled chicken/tofu + 1 cup of mixed veggies + 1 piece of dark chocolate

Day 7

Breakfast: Shakshuka + 1 cup of tea + handful of unsalted nuts
Lunch: Quinoa, chickpea, bell pepper, and greens salad with cheese
Snack: 1 cup of cold coffee (with coconut sugar) + 1 saltine cracker
Dinner: 6 oz grilled salmon + 1 cup of mixed greens + ½ cup of veggies

You can print this 7-day Mediterranean diet plan and pin it on your ambition board to stay focused and motivated. But before you start the Mediterranean diet, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Precautions: Are There Any Risk?

Though the Mediterranean diet is healthy and highly beneficial, in some cases, it may lead to:

  • Low levels of iron and vitamin B12 from not eating enough red meat.
  • Calcium loss from consuming fewer dairy products.
  • Nut and seafood allergies.

The Takeaway: Should You Go On A Mediterranean Diet?

Irrespective of your overall health condition, going on the Mediterranean diet can have a positive long-term impact on your life. This diet is sustainable as it includes a wide group of delicious, nutritious, and filling foods. It will change your food habits for the better, improve your fitness levels, and mental well-being. Ensure you talk to your doctor before you begin this diet.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Definition of the Mediterranean Diet: A Literature Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663587/
  2. Mediterranean Diet
    https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/82040
  3. Definitions and potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet: views from experts around the world
    https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-12-112
  4. Mediterranean diet and life expectancy; beyond olive oil fruits and vegetables
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5902736/
  5. The Mediterranean diet its components and cardiovascular disease
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25447615/
  6. Mediterranean Diet in patients with acute ischemic stroke: Relationships between Mediterranean Diet score diagnostic subtype and stroke severity index
    https://www.atherosclerosis-journal.com/article/S0021-9150(15)30126-X/fulltext
  7. Mediterranean diet and health outcomes: a systematic meta-review
    https://academic.oup.com/eurpub/article/28/5/955/5050889
  8. A journey into a Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review with meta-analyses
    https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/8/e008222
  9. The Effect of the Mediterranean Diet on Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26483006/
  10. Effects of a Mediterranean diet on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and observational studies
    https://journals.lww.com/jhypertension/Abstract/2021/04000/Effects_of_a_Mediterranean_diet_on_blood_pressure_.21.aspx
  11. Mediterranean diet improves sexual function in women with the metabolic syndrome
    https://www.nature.com/articles/3901555
  12. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7147972/
  13. Mediterranean Diet as a Tool to Combat Inflammation and Chronic Diseases. An Overview
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7400632/
  14. Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet and Inflammatory Markers
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793290/
  15. The Mediterranean Diet Slows Down the Progression of Aging and Helps to Prevent the Onset of Frailty: A Narrative Review
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31877702/
  16. Can a Mediterranean Diet Pattern Slow Aging?
    https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/73/3/315/4917619
  17. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-018-0237-8
  18. Mediterranean Diet and the Emotional Well-Being of Students of the Campus of Melilla (University of Granada)
    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8efa/43ea449b75286e1824474dabb39cc7dc83ef.pdf

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Charushila Biswas is a Senior Content Writer and an ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition. She is an alumni of VIT University, Vellore and has worked on transgenic wheat as a part of her Masters dissertation from NRCPB (IARI), New Delhi. After completing her Masters, she developed a passion for nutrition and fitness, which are closely related to human psychology. This prompted her to author a review article in 2015. She has written over 200 articles on Fitness and Nutrition. In her leisure time, Charushila loves to cook and enjoys mobile photography.