Getting Started With the Mediterranean Diet

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Due to its variety of foods, flavors, and health benefits, the Mediterranean diet remains a popular option for healthy eating. You’ll build your meals around fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, olive oil, fish, and small amounts of yogurt and cheese.

Scientific studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to better health outcomes, such as a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even a longer lifespan. 

While the many benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet are known, putting any dietary change into practice (and sticking to it) takes work and commitment. It doesn't have to be complicated, though, and small changes can have significant results over time. Here are a few simple tips to get started.

Your Calorie Goals

The Mediterranean diet does not specify calorie or macronutrient targets; instead, it is an overall food pattern. For some people, taking this focus off calories and putting it back on food quality can help reduce meal-time stress.

Calorie needs are based on many factors, including height, weight, gender, activity level, and genetics. You may find counting calories helpful if you're trying to lose weight. If you are curious about your calorie needs, though, you can get an estimate of them using the calculator below.

If you’d like to follow a Mediterranean diet within a calorie range, simply make food choices that align with the diet’s recommendations and that add up to your calorie goals. You can use online food journals to help you better track this.

Hydration Tips

Keep your water bottle handy when following the Mediterranean diet, as that’s the primary beverage you'll want to drink each day. Drinking enough water is essential for overall health and hydration.

You can also choose other unsweetened beverages, like coffee, tea, or seltzer. Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages like soda or lemonade, except for an occasional treat.

Grocery Staples

If you’re just getting started, you might want to plan a visit to the grocery store. As a reminder, here are the key Mediterranean diet foods you’ll want to stock your fridge and pantry with:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and lentils
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish
  • Eggs (in moderation)
  • Dairy (in moderation)
  • Poultry (in moderation)
  • Red wine (in moderation)

Next, consider implementing these tips to keep your kitchen Mediterranean-friendly:

Shop the Frozen Section

Remember that frozen foods (like produce and fish) can work well as cost-effective staples for your meals. For example, vegetables are typically frozen at the peak of freshness to ensure maximum nutrient retention. Pack your freezer with these, and you'll always have something healthy to prepare.

Limit Acess to Sweet Treats

All foods can fit in a Mediterranean diet, but some foods, like red meat and added sugar, should only be consumed occasionally. It can be tough to stick to your goals if you’ve got a pantry full of sweet treats and waning willpower. In this case, it might be worthwhile to get rid of some, so you’re not tempted to snack on them daily.

Stock Up on High-Quality Olive Oil

Because you’ll use this as the primary oil for cooking and dressings, choosing a high-quality version is wise. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and healthy, satiating fats.

How to Shop for Olive Oil

“Olive oil is graded on taste, acidity level, and processing method," says Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN and Director of Nutrition for Oldways. "Extra virgin olive oils are naturally extracted with no heat or chemicals, have the most flavor, and have more of the antioxidants and micronutrients intact. Olive oil and 'light' olive, which are made with refined olive oil, still have a very healthy fatty acid profile, but may not have as many antioxidants or heat sensitive nutrients intact as extra virgin olive oil."

Choose Alcohol Wisely

You've got the green light to drink red wine in moderation on the Mediterranean diet—but only if it's appropriate for your lifestyle and medical conditions. 

Keep in mind that certain people should not drink alcohol, like pregnant women, those with alcohol addiction, or those who are on certain medications. Check with your doctor for individualized recommendations, and then decide whether to stock your kitchen with red wine.

Also, remember that moderation refers to one 5-ounce glass per day for women and one to two 5-ounce glasses per day for men.

Recipe Ideas

A wonderful part of the Mediterranean diet is the flexibility in planning your meals. There are no specific guidelines for calories or macros; instead you can flex your culinary creativity within the confines of the recommended foods.


vegetarian hummus bagel
Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE

When planning your breakfasts, focus on whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and a source of protein such as eggs, nuts, or yogurt.

Here are some breakfast ideas:

  • Scrambled eggs with peppers, onions, and mushrooms, alongside a slice of whole-wheat toast
  • Greek yogurt topped with fruit and whole-grain cereal
  • Whole grain flatbread dipped in olive oil, alongside cheese, hummus, and vegetables
  • Oatmeal with almond butter and a sliced apple
  • Whole grain waffle with ricotta cheese and berries


spring baked pasta with lemon ricotta
Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE

There are endless possibilities for creating Mediterranean-friendly tasty lunches and dinners! Remember the encouraged foods—like fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, and olive oil—and build your meals around those.

Try these lunch or dinner ideas:

  • Roasted salmon with wild rice and roasted broccoli
  • Sautéed chicken with tomatoes, zucchini, and mushrooms, served over farro
  • Spring baked pasta with asparagus and ricotta served with a large salad
  • Pan seared haddock with lemons and capers served alongside quinoa and sautéed green beans
  • Sardine patties with a dill yogurt sauce served over greens
  • Mediterranean veggie wrap


Hummus Tuna Cucumber Bites
Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN 

You may end up not needing snacks. One of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet is that the higher fiber and fat content at meals helps you feel full. If you are hungry in between meals, though, enjoy one of these snack ideas:

  • Fruit along with nuts/nut butter
  • Vegetables with hummus, guacamole, or Greek yogurt based dip
  • Hummus tuna cucumber bites
  • Whole wheat pita dipped in olive oil seasoned with spices
  • Small portions of lunch or dinner leftovers


lemon blueberry energy bites
Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN, LD

When you’re following this diet, it’s OK to have a normal, sugar-filled dessert occasionally. But on most days, skip the added sugar and focus on a natural way to satisfy your sweet tooth with these dessert ideas:

  • Dates stuffed with peanut butter, sunflower seed butter, or goat cheese
  • Greek yogurt and fruit
  • Baked apples topped with cinnamon and walnuts
  • Energy balls made from oats, nuts, and dates
  • “Nice cream” made by blending frozen bananas and cocoa powder with a splash of almond milk

Cooking and Meal Planning

Luckily, you don’t need any special kitchen equipment or fancy cooking skills to be able to prepare healthy meals on the Mediterranean diet. Here are a few helpful tips to set you up for success:

Learn to Meal Plan

If there’s one tip that will save you time, money, and frustration, it’s meal planning for the week. Spend time writing out your dinner ideas for the week and shop based on those ideas. This will ensure you have everything you need each week, and there’s no last-minute stress to worry about what you're going to eat.

Leave Extra Time for Whole grains

If you’re new to cooking with whole grains, know that they may take longer to prepare than refined grains. For example, brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice. Build a little extra time into your meal prep, or search for convenient short-cuts (like instant brown rice or prepared whole wheat flatbread).

Prep Ahead

If you have time on the weekends, consider chopping up some of your vegetables in advance to make weekday meal prep faster. Or, you can try batch cooking on the weekend, where you prepare several meals in advance to choose from throughout the week.

A Word from Verywell

Whether you’re embarking on the Mediterranean diet to reduce disease risk, lose weight, or simply for overall wellness, this eating pattern is full of delicious meals to keep you motivated on your journey to healthier eating. 

Remember, though, the Mediterranean lifestyle also hinges on daily physical activity and positive social interactions, so don’t forget to include these aspects.

While no one diet fits every lifestyle, this is one that many people will find value and success in following. With all the flavor, variety, and health benefits, it's no surprise that people in the Mediterranean have been eating this way for centuries.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit 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.
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  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.

  3. Popkin BM, D'Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and healthNutr Rev. 2010;68(8):439–458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x

  4. Widmer RJ, Flammer AJ, Lerman LO, Lerman A. The Mediterranean diet, its components, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Med. 2015;128(3):229–238. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.10.014

  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) ( Harmful Interactions.

  6. Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, et al. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adultsInt J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017;14(1):12. Published 2017 Feb 2. doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7

Additional Reading

By Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH
Chrissy Carroll is a registered dietitian and USAT Level I Triathlon Coach, and the author of "Eat to Peak: Sports Nutrition for Runners and Triathletes."