If you're looking for a sensible eating plan you can sustain for months, if not years, to come, look no further: The Mediterranean diet is currently ranked first on the U.S. News & World Report 2021 Best Diets list.
What's not to love about the Mediterranean diet? Research suggests a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk for heart disease, certain cancers and other serious health conditions. The meal plan is filled with healthful foods to rev metabolism, strengthen bones, alleviate aches and pains, minimize belly fat, and boost energy and brain power.
It’s important to note that the Mediterranean Sea borders 16 different countries, each with their own traditions and variations on food selection and prep. However, the same basic principles apply: Eating is focused primarily on plant-based foods (think veggies, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds); butter is replaced with olive oil; fish, eggs and poultry are the animal proteins of choice; red meat is limited to no more than a few times a month; meals are flavored with various herbs and spices; wine is enjoyed in moderation — and food is shared with friends and family.
This plan provides approximately 1,600 calories per day (this includes a glass of wine, a "daily cheat" and unlimited non-starchy vegetables; see below). Feel free to adjust higher or lower depending on your personal weight and health goals.
Here are a few tips to going Mediterranean:
Eat on a schedule: Have a meal or snack at least every four to five hours.
Mix and match any of the meal and snack options. Repeat favorite meals/snacks as often as you’d like.
Plan your menu the night before, so you’re armed with a game plan.
Drink water throughout the day. Keep a water bottle on hand for continuous sipping.
Enjoy up to one glass of wine each day along with a meal.
Stick with “legal eats” when watching TV or a movie: light popcorn or veggies only.
Enjoy unlimited amounts of non-starchy vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, peppers, celery, cucumbers, etc.) at any point in the day.
Indulge in one optional “daily cheat.” It could be a small handful of French fries or two bites of anything that looks delicious.
You can also mix and match the options below.
1. Greek omelet
Combine 1 egg and 3 egg whites with spinach, dill and optional feta. Add 1 slice of whole grain toast on the side.
2. Oatmeal with fruit and nuts
Combine 1/2 cup dry oats with 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk or skim milk. Top with 1/2 cup chopped fruit, 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts and 1 optional teaspoon of honey or maple syrup. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon.
3. PB-banana-cinnamon English muffin
Toast 1 whole-grain English muffin. Top with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1/2 sliced banana and a sprinkling of cinnamon.
4. Avocado toast with eggs
Top 1 slice of whole-grain bread with 2 tablespoons mashed avocado, sliced radish and a squirt of lemon juice. On the side, enjoy 1 whole egg plus 3 egg whites — scrambled or hard-boiled with any preferred vegetables or seasonings.
5. Mediterranean smoothie
Blend 1 handful of baby spinach, 1/2 ripe banana, 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries, 1/2 cup low-fat milk, 1 tablespoon almond butter (or nut butter of your choice) and 3 to 5 ice cubes.
6. Savory protein pancake with lemon-dill yogurt
Mix 1/2 cup dry quick oats, 4 egg whites, 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped scallions, 1 ounce reduced-fat shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Preheat pan coated with olive oil cooking spray over medium heat. Pour in batter and spread evenly throughout the pan. Cook 2 to 3 minutes per side. Top with a dollop of Lemon-Dill Yogurt sauce.
7. Mediterranean muffin with eggs or yogurt
Make Mediterranean-style muffins. Have 1 hard-boiled egg or 5 to 8 ounces of low-fat Greek yogurt on the side.
1. Grilled fish and veggies
Grill 6 ounces of fish. Add 1 cup vegetables, grilled, roasted or sauteed in olive oil.
2. Mezze plate with hummus, nuts and fruit
Create a Mezze plate with 1/4 cup hummus and unlimited crudite or raw veggies, 1 small whole grain roll or 1/2 large pita, 1 cup grapes, and 10 almonds or walnuts (or 1 ounce of cheese).
3. Mediterranean salad jar
In a glass jar, layer lemon dressing (2 teaspoons olive oil, 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, some salt and chopped parsley to taste), chopped cucumber, diced tomato, chopped celery, black olives, chopped artichoke hearts, white beans, feta cheese, chopped romaine and cubed or chopped chicken.
4. Lentil soup and veggies
2 cups lentil soup with 1 cup of vegetables on the side. Add 1 cup of grapes, or swap for 1 apple, pear, orange, grapefruit, banana or 1 cup of berries.
5. Chicken and spinach wrap
Stuff a 100-calorie whole grain tortilla wrap with baby spinach leaves, sliced red onion, chopped tomato, 4 ounces of grilled chicken breast and 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinaigrette.
6. Open-faced veggie tuna salad sandwich
Make an open faced tuna salad sandwich at home using the recipe found here or buy a comparable version from a deli. On the side, enjoy 1 orange, apple, pear, grapefruit, banana or 1 cup grapes or berries.
7. Quinoa chickpea tabbouleh
Make this delicious Mediterranean-style salad using the recipe found here.
1. Dried apricots and almonds
8 dried apricots (or 6 dates) with 10 almonds
2. Rosemary-Parmesan popcorn
Make 4 cups of Rosemary-Parmesan popcorn using the recipe found here.
3. Veggies and 1/4 cup hummus
4. Hummus deviled eggs
Make 12 deviled eggs (6 eggs whole) using the recipe found here.
5. Apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
1. Quinoa and black bean stuffed peppers
Make stuffed peppers using the recipe found here. Add a side salad of mixed greens and non-starchy vegetables topped with 1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil, unlimited balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts.
2. Chicken-vegetable kebabs and cous cous
Make kabobs using 6 ounces of chicken, peppers, mushrooms and red onions. Add 1/2 cup cooked whole grain cous cous. Serve with a side of chopped salad with 1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil, unlimited balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
3. Pesto salmon with artichokes and potato
Make my pesto salmon using the recipe found here. Add 1/2 baked potato.
4. Shrimp broccoli scampi
Make this light pasta dish using the recipe found here.
5. Grilled fish with veggies and soup appetizer
Have 1 cup of minestrone soup as an appetizer (or substitute for shrimp cocktail, grilled calamari, mussels marinara, steamed clams or house salad with 1 tablespoon of dressing). Grill 6 ounces of fish (roasted, broiled or poached fish are options as well). Add 1 cup vegetables grilled, roasted or sauteed in olive oil.
6. Greek turkey burger with salad
Make this Mediterranean-inspired turkey burger using the recipe found here. Add a side salad dressed with 1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil and unlimited vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice.
7. Spanish Paella
Make this traditional Spanish dish using cauliflower rice with the recipe found here. Enjoy 2 hearty servings with 1/2 pink grapefruit on the side.