Getting Started With the Mediterranean Diet

In This Article

Close-up of male hand pouring oil into pan in the kitchen
BartekSzewczyk/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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.

Hundreds of scientific studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to better health outcomes, like reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and 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 big 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; rather it is an overall food pattern. For some people, taking this focus off calories and putting it back on food quality can be helpful for reducing meal-time stress.

If you are curious about your calorie needs, though, you can get an estimate of them using the calculator below. 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’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, with the exception of 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.

Avoid keeping too many sweet treats on hand

All foods can fit in a Mediterranean diet, but some foods, like red meat and added sugar, should only be consumed occasionally. If you’ve got a pantry full of sweet treats and waning willpower, it can be tough to stick to your goals. 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, it’s wise to choose a high-quality version. 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 wisely when it comes to alcohol

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.

Breakfast

vegetarian hummus bagel
Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE

When planning your breakfasts, try using the Oldways Breakfast 1-2-3 Plan. Inspired by Mediterranean breakfasts, it consolidates breakfast foods into three categories:

  1. Whole grains
  2. Fresh fruit or vegetables
  3. A source of protein (like eggs, nuts, or yogurt)

Here are some breakfast ideas that fit these parameters:

  • 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

Lunch/Dinner

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

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

Try these lunch or dinner ideas:

Snacks

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

Dessert

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:

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 a bit 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 as well.

While there’s no one diet that 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 people in the Mediterranean have been eating this way for centuries.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources