The Mediterranean Diet 101: What It Is and What to Eat

pasta salad

The Spruce Eats / Eric Kleinberg

A Note From the Editors

The Spruce Eats does not endorse this diet; rather, we are providing some information that can contribute to your decision. Please talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet.

Mediterranean Diet Basics

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that emphasizes whole grains, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, supplemented by moderate amounts of fish, dairy, and poultry. Red meats and added sugars are limited or avoided. It is modeled after the eating habits of people in countries like Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Spain in the early 1960s, before the proliferation of fast foods and other highly processed foods.

Decades of studies have found that this type of diet is associated with longer life, along with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's, and possibly arthritis. 

The diet originated from the Seven Countries Study, conducted between 1958 and 1974, and first published in 1978. The study focused on rates of heart disease and stroke, and found that people in countries bordering the Mediterranean sea suffered less from these diseases than people in Northern Europe and the United States, with diet being one of the key factors. The study's findings were refined into a nutrition guide called the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in 1993, which remains the basis for the Mediterranean diet. 

These guidelines recommend a diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, eaten in abundance, as the basis for every meal. Fish and seafood should be eaten often, at least twice a week. Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt are eaten in moderate portions, daily to weekly, with red meats and sweets, highly processed foods, refined grains, and butter eaten rarely or not at all. 

Pros and Cons


  • Better for weight loss than a low-fat diet, especially when combined with exercise, moderate calorie intake, and other factors.
  • Linked to longer life and lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's, and possibly arthritis.
  • The American Heart Association, Arthritis Foundation, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society, and World Health Organization all recommend a Mediterranean-style diet.
  • The style of eating provides many important nutrients for good health.
  • There is substantial research showing the diet's benefits, starting with the Seven Countries Study in 1978.


  • Limiting milk can result in deficiencies in protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
  • Limiting alcohol, red meats, sweets, desserts, and butter can be difficult for some. 
  • The diet is more expensive than the standard American diet. 
  • Not everyone has access to fresh fruits and vegetables. 

What to Eat on the Mediterranean Diet

People on the Mediterranean diet will base their meals around the following foods.

Mediterranean Diet Foods

  • Fresh vegetables like: Tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, eggplant, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, squash, spinach, kale, and greens
  • Fresh fruits like: Apples, pears, bananas, berries, cherries, grapes, dates, melon, figs, lemons, peaches, plums, oranges, avocados, and olives
  • Nuts and seeds like: Cashews, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and pine nuts
  • Legumes like: Pinto beans, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, peas, peanuts, and split peas
  • Whole grains like: Bulgur, wheat, oatmeal, rice, and polenta) as well as whole-grain breads and pasta
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fish and seafood like: Anchovies, sardines, wild salmon, tuna, shrimp, octopus, calamari, mussels, and clams
  • Cheese and yogurt, made from both cow's and sheep's milk 
  • Poultry and eggs 

A small glass of wine (5 ounces is the size of standard glass of wine in the US) is acceptable, unless you are pregnant, underage, or have a problem with alcohol intake. You do not have to start drinking to reap the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Coffee and tea (unsweetened) are acceptable, but water should be the main drink.

Here's a one-day sample meal plan, as well as a number of recipes you could enjoy on the Mediterranean diet. 





Sweets are mostly avoided on the Mediterranean diet, but a piece of fruit would be a good dessert for someone who wanted something sweet after a meal.

What Not to Eat on the Mediterranean Diet

On the Mediterranean diet, red meats, milk, butter, and sweets are either avoided altogether or eaten rarely. Refined grains, such as white bread, as well as soda and other sugary drinks, processed meats, and processed and ultra processed foods with excess fat and added sugars are also avoided. 

Bottom Line

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that emphasizes whole grains, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, supplemented by moderate amounts of fish, dairy, and poultry. Foods like red meats and sugars are limited or avoided. Numerous studies show that the diet is linked to longer life, and lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's. It may also be effective for weight loss. It can lead to higher grocery bills, and avoiding certain foods can be difficult for some. 

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysisBMJ. 2008;337:a1344.

  2. Martínez-González MA, Gea A, Ruiz-Canela M. The mediterranean diet and cardiovascular healthCirculation Research. 2019;124(5):779-798.

  3. Georgoulis M, Kontogianni MD, Yiannakouris N. Mediterranean diet and diabetes: prevention and treatmentNutrients. 2014;6(4):1406-1423.

  4. Mentella MC, Scaldaferri F, Ricci C, Gasbarrini A, Miggiano GAD. Cancer and mediterranean diet: a reviewNutrients. 2019;11(9):2059.

  5. Anastasiou CA, Yannakoulia M, Kosmidis MH, et al. Mediterranean diet and cognitive health: initial results from the hellenic longitudinal investigation of ageing and dietPLoS One. 2017;12(8):e0182048.

  6. Morales-Ivorra I, Romera-Baures M, Roman-Viñas B, Serra-Majem L. Osteoarthritis and the mediterranean diet: a systematic reviewNutrients. 2018;10(8):1030.

  7. Katherine D Pett, MS, MEd, RDN, Walter C Willett, MD, DrPH, Erkki Vartiainen, MD PhD, David L Katz, MD MPH, The Seven Countries StudyEuropean Heart Journal, Volume 38, Issue 42, 07 November 2017, Pages 3119–3121

  8. Oldways Mediterranean diet pyramid. Oldways.

  9. Shai I, Schwarzfuchs D, Henkin Y, et al. Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, mediterranean, or low-fat dietNew England Journal of Medicine. 2008;359(3):229-241.

  10. What is the Mediterranean diet? American Heart Association.

  11. The ultimate arthritis diet. Arthritis Foundation.

  12. Go heart-healthy. ADA. American Diabetes Association.

  13. American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity. American Cancer Society.

  14. Healthy diet. WHO. World Health Organization.

  15. Castro-Quezada I, Román-Viñas B, Serra-Majem L. The mediterranean diet and nutritional adequacy: a reviewNutrients. 2014;6(1):231-248.

  16. Rao M, Afshin A, Singh G, Mozaffarian D. Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysisBMJ Open. 2013;3(12):e004277.