By Kara Mayer Robinson
Delicious food that's stood the test of time and helps keep you healthy for years to come. That's at the heart of the traditional Mediterranean diet.
There’s no single Mediterranean diet plan, but in general, you'd be eating lots of fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, healthy grains, fish, olive oil, small amounts of meat and dairy, and red wine.
This lifestyle also encourages daily exercise, sharing meals with others, and enjoying it all.
What You Can Eat and What You Can't
You’ll eat mostly plant-based foods, including fruits and vegetables, potatoes, whole-grain bread, beans, nuts, and seeds.
You can have yogurt, cheese, poultry, and eggs in small portions. You should eat fish and seafood at least twice a week. "Good" fats get a stamp of approval: Think olives, extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, sunflower seeds, and avocados instead of butter or margarine. You’ll use olive oil a lot while cooking. Reach for herbs and spices to add flavor.
Red wine gets a thumbs-up, in moderation (one glass for women, one to two for men). But water is your go-to drink.
Dessert is usually fruit. Sweets and red meats are OK occasionally.
Level of Effort: Low to Medium
It's a tasty diet and good for you, though you may have a learning curve at first.
Limitations: Few. The Mediterranean diet allows plenty of variety and experimentation.
Cooking and shopping: Simplify by planning your meals in advance; keeping pantry staples like olive oil, canned tomatoes, whole grains, pasta, and tuna on hand; and shopping for fresh produce and seafood a few times a week. You can easily grill or broil many Mediterranean diet foods.
Snacks can be quick and easy, too: Grab a clementine or a handful of nuts, or dip whole wheat pita chips into hummus.
Packaged foods or meals: None.The diet emphasizes fresh foods.
In-person meetings: No.
Exercise: Being active every day is part of the lifestyle.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarians and vegans: Sticking with fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds is a snap for vegetarians. If you're vegan, you'd need to skip the dairy products.
Low-sodium diet: You’ll rely on herbs and spices for flavor instead of salt, which helps if you’re looking for a low-sodium diet.
Low-fat diet: The Mediterranean diet doesn’t qualify as a low-fat diet. But it is low in saturated fat and is well within the American Heart Association’s guidelines.
Gluten-free: If you're avoiding gluten, you can choose grains without gluten.
What Else You Should Know
If you’re looking for a long-term lifestyle change, this can be a fun and realistic way to do it. You can be creative, approach your food in a new way, and enjoy the foods you like in moderation.
Costs: None beyond your shopping.
Support: There are many books and online articles about the Mediterranean diet, but no official groups.
What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:
Does It Work?
There’s no question about it. Years of research have shown that the Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest around.
For weight loss, stick with it more than 6 months (preferably forever), get regular exercise, and watch your portions.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
This diet scores big for heart health and longevity. Studies suggest it may make you less likely to get heart disease, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, help you manage diabetes, and help you avoid certain cancers and chronic diseases.
The Final Word
Research continues to show the Mediterranean Diet, based on healthy foods and physical activity, is the best prescription for a long, healthy life. It is an excellent, enjoyable diet plan that is easy to follow, and flexible.
Even if you don’t follow the diet faithfully, simply eating more of the foods on the plan, dining more leisurely, and being more active are superb health goals.