What Does The Mediterranean Diet Consist of?

What Does The Mediterranean Diet Consist of?

The term “Mediterranean diet” is slightly misleading, as it doesn’t accurately reflect the true culinary and dietary habits of the entire Mediterranean region. Nonetheless, it does reflect eating habits in Crete, Southern Italy, and parts of Spain with an unusually large number of nonagenarians and centenarians – individuals that live past ninety and a hundred years, respectively.

Basically, this diet is characterized by an abundance of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, legumes, as well as whole grain (stay away from refined flour!) Breads, pastas, rice, and nuts.

The main fat source is olive oil. As far as protein is concerned, fish and seafood is the main source, and many adherents of the Mediterranean diet recommend eating fish as often as twice a week. Other sources of protein include moderate and occasional servings of poultry, dairy products (yogurt, cheeses) and eggs.

Red meat is eaten in small quantities, with a rule of thumb being “lesser and leaner” . Meals are accompanied with a small serving of wine (one glass per meal).

This diet is balanced, nutritious, highly varied, contains an abundance of macronutrients, and is rich in cancer-fighting anti-oxidant substances. Additionally, it is low in aptly named “bad fat” (saturated fats) while at the same time it’s high in healthy polyunsaturated fats and omega 3. It’s also high in fiber.

So, what does the Mediterranean diet consist of? Here is a breakdown of the Mediterranean diet by nutritional category:

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Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates should make up 50% of the total energetic intake. Ideally, these should be complex carbohydrates (pastas, rice, potatoes, bread, and legumes) and non-simple carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables are also rich not only in the right kind of carbohydrates, but also fiber, vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.

Fats and Lipids

35% of calories should come from fats and lipids. Particularly, olive oil, which is often referred to as the “healthiest fat on earth”. Nuts are also a good source of fat, fresh fish is also full of healthy polyunsaturated fats, and salmon, mackerel, tuna (particularly albacore) and lake trout are some of the best varieties.

Protein

Protein should account for around 15% of total food energy. Obviously, there will be a lot of overlap between sources of fats/lipids and sources of protein.

Protein is necessary for proper healing and tissue regeneration throughout the organism. Animal protein (eggs, dairy, meat, and fish) is more complete than plant based proteins (legumes and cereals). However, when particular vegetables are combined in certain ways (rice and lentils, for example) they can provide protein that is similar to animal protein, but without overdoing it on the fat.

An Easy Diet To Follow

At the end of the day, as long as you remain active, and eat products that are fresh, organic, and seasonal (whenever possible) you will be able to see positive changes in your health. If what we’ve detailed so far in terms of percentages is confusing, perhaps we can break it down a different way.

For each basic category (fish and seafood, vegetables, etc.) we have provided numerous examples, but please don’t consider this to be an exhaustive list. Basically, as long as it’s fresh, and sourced locally it’s a safe bet, and can be included in a “Mediterranean diet”.

The only true enemies would be anything that’s been heavily processed, or contains processed white sugar and/or processed white flour. Basically, if it comes in a package, box, or a can, you should be skeptical, and read the labels carefully.

So here is a basic guide regarding what to eat, and how much of it. In order to find out what constitutes as a “serving” for each particular food, please refer to the guidelines set forth by The United States Department of Agriculture on their page www.choosemyplate.gov.

Also, please keep in mind the amounts we have listed, here are the maximum amounts that should be eaten on a daily/weekly basis…

  • Olive Oil – 4 tbsp per day
  • Nuts – 3 servings per day (almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seed, cashews etc…)
  • Fresh Fruits – 3 servings per day (Any fresh fruit. All the better if the fruit is in season.)
  • Vegetables – 2 servings per day (Avocado, eggplant, asparagus, beets, cabbage, cucumber, collared greens, fennel, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, and the list goes on and on…you can never go wrong when you eat a wide variety of fresh, seasonal vegetables)
  • Fish and Seafood – 2 servings per week (Salmon, tuna, sardines, shrimp, oysters, clams, etc.)
  • Legumes – 3 servings per week (Lentils, peas, beans, okra, tomato, potato, yams, etc.)
  • Sofrito – 2 servings per week (This is a delicious sauce that consists of tomato, onion, and garlic left to simmer in oil. Different aromatic herbs are added for additional flavor and micro nutrients. There are many different variants of sofrito.)
  • Complex Carbohydrates – 3 per week (whole grain breads, whole grain pastas, rice etc…)
  • Wine – 1 glass per day

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24 thoughts on “What Does The Mediterranean Diet Consist of?

  1. ok read your site and agree with you on the Mediterranean diet and all the benefits it has to offer my girlfriend and I are follow this diet mostly because she is from Sicily and she has been eating that way all her life.
    But we have found that you should awals start a diet with good detox when you start any diet reason being isto remove all toxins from the liver to help your body absorb the nutrient and vitamin properly.

    1. Interesting points there Fredric – thanks very much for sharing them with our readers 🙂
      I have to admit that sounds like a pretty good way to start off any diet!

  2. Hi,
    I really appreciate the way you really explain the Mediterranean diet. I have heard so much about it yet never really got a detailed breakdown of what it consisted of. Thank you for this post it has really helped me understand this diet. I might be more inclined to try it.

    1. Great to hear that you were able to take so much value out of the article Heather – thanks for stopping by and reading ( good luck with the diet! )

  3. First off, I love your image at the top of your website, the ninjas are so cute!
    As you describe the Mediterranean Diet, not only am I getting super hungry, but I’m realizing that these are all foods I absolutely love. The one glass of wine seems a little low though *wink*
    I’m already careful abut the kinds of boxed foods we buy, but I’ll be taking a closer look from now on!

    1. LOL a lot of visitors seem to like the ninjas Dara! I know the one glass of wine is a little hard to stick to but it really does help you trim down ( if you can manage it! )

  4. Hi Chris:

    I enjoyed reading your article on the Mediterranean Diet. I use Olive Oil all the time with most of the meals I cook. I will have to check into your website more on the true benefits of shopping for vegetables and meats locally as opposed to going to the store. We have a farmer’s market here in town which I enjoy going to and getting tomatoes, squash and other locally grown vegetables.

    I do have a question. You mentioned that the Mediterranean Diet includes a glass of wine per meal within your article, but on your checklist, you only list it to be one glass per day. So how much wine should be consumed and should it be white or read?

    1. No unfortunately it’s best to stick to one glass a day if possible ( with the main meal at night is ideal! ). I would always go for red wine as it is heart-healthy and contains a lot less calories.

  5. Great idea for a niche, this can be very profitable if you get it done right. I like the overall presentation of the site and it is engaging for the reader. As for diets, I’ve tried my fair share, but I can never seem to stick to it as I should. I can make it 2-3 weeks then I just fall off, any tips to stay on track?

  6. This seems like a pretty yummy diet. It would be a good idea to try something like this since sugar has been making me feel sick lately. The pictures look so good, especially because I’m an olive and cheese lover. Plus one glass of wine.. I can do that 😉
    The only part I wouldn’t be able to do is the fish/seafood which might be a big part of this. I dislike those kinds of food.

  7. Your photos remind me of some of my favs Chris! I totally agree with you on not eating processed foods and getting healthy fats into our diets. My husband and I try to follow a whole foods diet, and love fresh vegetables and fruits. I noticed that you didn’t give any portion sizes on your list and was wondering about that. Especially regarding nuts, I’ve heard 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup etc. I’ve also heard different versions of portion sizes for fish, etc.

    1. Portion sizes are pretty much up in the air Debby – everyone is different and everyone needs various levels of nutrition. Don’t get hung up on portions – if you are eating healthy you’re on the right track ( don’t go hungry! )

  8. Hi Chris,

    I found your article very interesting and helpful, I was absorbed by the reading!
    I have tried this diet in the past, not just it work awesomely, but I was enjoying every moment of it. There are a wide choice of foods to eat, so it wasn’t boring and easy to continue. I stopped this diet because I became vegetarian. I would have suggest the Mediterranean diet to anyone who wish to loose weight and enjoy eating at the same time.
    Thank you for this awesome blog

  9. Hi, what you present here look great and delicious. I would say only that you did not stress enough various types of cheese. I have just spent a year on Tenerife and realized they have a large variety of the best goat cheese, locally produced, simple but completely organic. On the other hand, in many of those areas you mentioned, like Crete, obesity is problem. So yes, this all looks great but people have serious health issues there. What is behind it, I am not so sure.

  10. Well, this seems like a healthy diet if not for all the gluten, I’m not a huge fan, I balloon up. But I also can’t have nuts, so I think this is not the diet for me. Plus, I hate olives of every kind. Olive oil is okay, but I hate the actual olive itself. So while this may be a great diet for some, it just isn’t the one for me.

    1. LOL well thanks for telling us all that…sort of a negative all round really! 🙂

      I hope you find the diet that suits you…eventually.

  11. Awesome .. I didn’t know that the mediterainian diet consisted of these great many things. So i’ve been looking into being more of a healthy eater because I eat too much junk food .. This looks like a great diet that doesn’t sub out too much of the good stuff, but healthy nonetheless. Keep up the good work.

  12. I am in favor of a healthy more natural diet plan, I eat mainly vegetables, grass fed meat, fruit as my main foods.

    I have never tried this Mediterranean diet, it sounds like something I could manage and not all the different then my present eating plan. I would just have to make some minor adjustments, I do eat most of the food your recommend but I also eat some which are not recommended.

    I do not eat much if any processed foods, very seldom do i have processed food and when i do its gluten free and i eat very little dairy products.

    This eating plan does interest me, I think I will give this a try next time I go grocery shopping.

    Cool article

    1. Hey there – I remember you!

      Great to have you back here checking out our eating guides once again! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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