The Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle than a traditional weight-loss program. Citizens of roughly 21 countries, including Greece, Italy, and Turkey, enjoy Mediterranean foods. The Mediterranean diet is considered healthier than conventional American-style foods and is linked with a lower risk of disease— like heart disease and strokes.
“Overall, the anatomy of the Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits and veggies, legumes and beans, whole grains, and olive oil—lots of olive oil” explains Dr. David L. Katz, MD, founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. “There is some seafood, limited meat, and dairy plays a small role; however, it’s usually sheep or goat milk instead of cow milk.”
To immerse yourself in this style of eating, he recommends taking a trip. “Pick a Mediterranean country and fall in love with the cuisine,” he says. “Traveling to the region is really the best way to understand it as a culturally normal way of eating.”
If you’re short on vacation days, take a trip to your local grocery store or farmer’s market to stock up on Mediterranean-style foods. Here’s our guide to help you get started on vacation-worthy meals:
Getting Started With a Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet lacks highly processed foods. The diet consists of a variety of plant-based foods and little meat.
There are a few pantry staples, like an extra-large canister of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) that go into the diet.
“Extra virgin olive oil is always mechanically extracted from early harvest unripe green olives, which are rich in fatty acids and highly concentrated antioxidants,” explains Katz, who has served several times as a judge for U.S. News & World Report’s best diets roundup. “Another good, healthy oil is expeller-pressed, organic canola oil.”
Overall, look for oils that are mechanically squeezed rather than chemically processed for the purest oils.
The Mediterranean diet uses fresh spices over dry ones when possible. So, stock up on a few basics, such as oregano, basil, and thyme, as well as sea salt and pepper. However, if frequent trips to the market doesn’t fit into to your lifestyle, you can substitute with dried.
Pick up some rice, couscous, farro, or bulgur wheat, which are all common grains in Mediterranean countries.
How to Prep for Breakfast on the Mediterranean Diet
Perhaps you enjoy a large bowl of oatmeal in the morning, and; you’re wondering if your oatmeal is part of the Mediterranean diet. We want to ease your worries and say that the Mediterranean diet lacks specific rules and restrictions that other weight loss diets propose, like Keto. Your oatmeal is acceptable because it is a whole grain loaded with fiber, even if it is less common on the shores of the Mediterranean.
In some eastern Mediterranean countries, breakfast is savory rather than sweet. “You’ll find Israelis eat salads made with vegetables with grains for breakfast and Turks eat olives and cheese,” says Katz.
On that note, enjoy a hearty bowl of oatmeal, but load it with nuts and dried fruits for a more Mediterranean twist on the traditional meal.
Lebanese Breakfast Bulgur Cereal with Fruit and Nuts
For a different spin on warm breakfast cereal, try bulgur wheat. Bulgar wheat is often used in chopped Mediterranean salads and eaten with fruit and nuts for breakfast.
Cretan-Style Eggs With Tomatoes, Olives and, Feta
Eggs are a quick and easy Mediterranean-style breakfast packed with protein and nutrients. For peak flavor, farm-fresh eggs are best, but any high-quality eggs will do. Consider going little lighter not the feta (if you want!).
Sweet Greek Avocado Toast
Whole-grain bread and healthy fats are cornerstones of the Mediterranean diet. Try avocado paired with thick Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey on toast.
How to Prep for Lunch on the Mediterranean Diet
Traditionally in most Mediterranean countries, a large family meal was provided for lunch. Today, a more modern approach to packing/buying a lunch is the norm.
To prep for weekday meals, Bill Bradley, RD, of Mediterranean Living recommends choosing three to four recipes before heading to the grocery store and chopping up ingredients you can use for salads throughout the week.
“You can cut up cucumbers, slice peppers, and shred carrots and put them in Tupperware containers to have them ready to go for fresh salads topped with lean proteins,” says Bradley.
Almost Traditional Greek Salad
Add a leafy base to a traditional Greek salad, which in Greece typically consists of cucumber, tomato, onion, sliced peppers, and olives topped with a block of feta cheese drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkle of oregano.
Beet Couscous Salad With Fresh Mint
Chopped salads with grains and fresh herbs, such as traditional tabbouleh, make an excellent base for lean proteins like grilled chicken or fish. You can give them your own creative spin.
Apple, Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette
Seeds and nuts are other sources of protein in the Mediterranean diet, along with pungent cheeses that are full of flavor and satisfying. The above recipe is a one-serving recipe.
How to Prep for Dinner on the Mediterranean Diet
You will love using your slow cooker or Instant Pot to prep your Mediterranean dinners.
Many staples of the Mediterranean diet, such as healthy bean stews and tagines, are easy to cook with these time-saving kitchen appliances. Alternatively, you can also use a regular stovetop pot or traditional crockery from the region for authenticity.
“Another great thing about the Mediterranean diet is you can prep a few meals at once and use leftovers throughout the week,” explains Bradley.
These healthy stews are warm and satisfying combinations of vegetables, legumes, and beans, or a lean protein, such as chicken, often served with a slice of crusty bread or grain pilaf.
Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Green Olives, Peppers, and Lemon
Typical of North African, tagines are a slow-cooking, spiced stew made with chicken, fish, and vegetables.
Black-Eyed Peas with Fresh Dill and Parsley
Explore the seemingly endless range of protein-packed legumes and beans, from tiny yellow lentils to fava beans and black-eyed peas.
Fasolakia Green Beans and Potatoes in Olive Oil
Olive oil is the basis of much of the Mediterranean diet. In Greece, “Ladera” are olive oil-drenched stews high in healthy fats.