What is the Mediterranean diet? What foods are not allowed on the Mediterranean diet? Is this diet safe? In this post, I answer all of your questions about this trending diet!
Hello and welcome to Ironwild Fitness!
My name is Chantal. I’m a mom of two and a certified personal trainer & nutrition coach. (You can read more about me here if you’d like.)
What do you eat on the Mediterranean diet? What foods are not allowed on the Mediterranean diet?
These are questions that came to me when I was on Pinterest the other day. I clicked the “trending” tab to see what’s up-and-coming in the virtual world right now.
It’s something that I do pretty regularly, but normally the things I find there are either not interesting or not new to me.
But the words, “Mediterranean diet” caught my eye.
Was this a new fad or just Mediterranean diet recipes? Is there info on how to follow this eating style?
I was curious since I have pretty much heard all about the latest diets. I know people doing the Whole 30, going paleo, ketogenic, gluten-free, and the list goes on.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
I honestly didn’t know. But because I see people “dieting” a lot and I’m a personal trainer, I had to know. So I did a little bit of research for my readers.
(P.S. I do not personally believe in the word “dieting.” A diet is just what you’re eating – but putting yourself ON a diet is silly to me. It’s limiting mentally and I just don’t think that short-term solutions are effective for really changing your life…Also, since I’m a personal trainer, I can’t recommend any of these diets legally – I can kind of just give you the info and let you do what you will with it. So take it all with a grain of salt.)
Y’all, Mediterranean food is delicious. I love Mediterranean recipes.
And as it turns out, the diet itself is pretty simple.
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating style inspired by the cooking styles of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Those countries would be Spain, Italy, Greece, etc.
And as it turns out, the Mediterranean diet benefits are many.
(I have been to Spain and olives are a huge industry, so this makes sense. The climate is just right.)
Anyway, there’s a lot of olive oil, fish, whole grains, and fruits and veggies involved.
They even allow a little wine as part of this diet!
The Mediterranean diet is considered “heart healthy” because of the omegas in fish and healthy fats in olive oil, so I’d say that this might be an eating style worth trying if you have high cholesterol.
Well, at least some Mediterranean diet recipes, anyway. (Remember, I don’t believe in following ONE strict diet. I think that backfires way too often. Moderation is key!)
But I wanted to know more about the Mediterranean diet, so I did some more research.
What is the Mediterranean diet in more specific terms?
Here are the key components of the Mediterranean diet:
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. These include tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy greens, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, onions, citrus fruits, berries, and more. Aim to include a variety of colorful produce in your meals.
Whole grains are an important component of the Mediterranean diet. Opt for whole wheat, whole oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, and whole grain bread and pasta. These provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and sustained energy.
Legumes are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, and minerals. Common legumes in the Mediterranean diet include chickpeas, lentils, beans, and peas. They can be used in soups, stews, salads, and side dishes.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and sesame seeds, are abundant in healthy fats, protein, and fiber. They can be enjoyed as snacks, added to salads or yogurt, or used in cooking.
This eating style favors healthy fats, such as olive oil, which is a primary source of fat in the diet. Other sources include avocados, olives, and nuts. These fats provide monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.
Fish and Seafood
Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Seafood like shrimp, clams, and mussels are also common in Mediterranean cuisine. Aim for at least two servings of fish per week.
Poultry and Eggs
Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is a lean protein source that is consumed in moderation in the Mediterranean diet. Eggs are also included, typically eaten in moderation and prepared in various ways.
Herbs and Spices
The Mediterranean diet uses herbs and spices to enhance flavor instead of relying on excessive salt or unhealthy condiments. Common options include garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and cumin.
Moderate consumption of dairy products is part of the Mediterranean diet, typically in the form of yogurt and cheese. Opt for low-fat or Greek yogurt, and choose cheeses in moderation.
Red Wine (in moderation)
Moderate consumption of red wine is sometimes associated with the Mediterranean diet, particularly in certain regions. It’s important to note that moderation is key, typically defined as one glass per day for women and up to two glasses per day for men.
- Daily exercise is suggested as complementary to the diet
- Food is to be a social event – from cooking to eating
Related Reading: How Do You Know What Fats are “Good” Fats?
What foods are not allowed on the Mediterranean diet?
This eating style emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods that are typical of the traditional eating patterns in Mediterranean countries. While it promotes a wide range of nutritious foods, there are a few items that are not typically included in the Mediterranean diet or are consumed in moderation.
Here is a list of things that are generally not considered part of the Mediterranean eating style:
- Processed Meats: Highly processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats are typically not included in the Mediterranean diet due to their high levels of sodium, preservatives, and unhealthy fats.
- Sugary Foods and Sweets: Foods and beverages that are high in added sugars, such as candies, cookies, pastries, sodas, and sugary cereals, are not considered part of the Mediterranean diet. Instead, fresh fruits are often enjoyed as a natural source of sweetness.
- Refined Grains: Highly refined grains, including white bread, white rice, and refined pasta, are not commonly consumed in the Mediterranean diet. Instead, whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and whole grain pasta are preferred.
- Processed Snacks: Packaged snacks that are often high in unhealthy fats, added sugars, and artificial ingredients, such as chips, crackers, and snack bars, are generally avoided in the Mediterranean diet. Instead, natural snack options like nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits are preferred.
- Fried Foods: While occasional consumption of fried foods may occur in the Mediterranean diet, they are not typically considered a regular part of the eating pattern. Foods like fried chicken, french fries, and deep-fried snacks are limited or avoided.
- Sweetened Beverages: Sugary beverages like soda, fruit juices with added sugars, and energy drinks are not commonly consumed on the Mediterranean diet. Water is typically the beverage of choice, along with moderate consumption of red wine (if desired and appropriate).
- Trans Fats and Hydrogenated Oils: Foods containing trans fats and hydrogenated oils, such as margarine and many commercially baked goods, are not included in the Mediterranean diet due to their negative impact on heart health. Instead, healthier fat sources like olive oil and nuts are emphasized.
To me, this just sounds like what some of us call clean eating!
It’s important to note that the Mediterranean diet is flexible and adaptable, so individual preferences and cultural variations may lead to some differences in specific food choices.
However, the general principles involve consuming predominantly whole, minimally processed foods that prioritize fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, moderate amounts of fish and poultry, and limited red meat and sweets.
What do the studies say about Mediterranean diet benefits?
According to Mayo Clinic studies are really in support of claims that the Mediterranean diet is, “heart healthy.” It’s been associated with improved cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular-related death.
It has also been associated with fewer incidences of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. It’s also suggested that it might reduce the risk of breast cancer.
So these are all pretty worthy reasons to try the Mediterranean diet – even if you aren’t in poor health to begin with.
What I Like About This Diet as a Personal Trainer and Human Being
Do you lose weight on the Mediterranean diet? You could, sure! In my opinion, the best part about this is that everything is OK to eat in moderation. In other words, you aren’t “breaking” your diet by having chocolate or wine. I think that’s important mentally and emotionally – diets that are overly limiting set you up for failure.
They just aren’t sustainable. I personally think that diets like the Whole 30 or the 21 Day Fix are great for “kick-starting” weight loss efforts. They are great for motivation and busting through plateaus, but they just aren’t real life. They aren’t.
If you’ve ever tried a super limiting diet (carb-free, Whole 30, etc.) then you probably know what I mean.
For those who aren’t highly disciplined, extremely limiting diets can be an emotional rollercoaster. Plus, they don’t guarantee that you’ll make long-lasting changes. What’s the point in losing a bunch of weight in one month just to gain it back once you’re “off” of your diet?
Okay, rant over.
Can the Mediterranean Diet Help Me Lose Weight?
Everyone should be eating healthy fats (see my article about the different types of fat and their sources) and eating a lot of fresh, minimally processed foods.
As with any “diet,” the answer is yes and no. It depends on how rigid you are with your diet and whether or not you exercise, too. However, keep in mind that this particular diet is not as rigid as others. If you start eating “Mediterranean style” and it helps you eat more fruit, veggies, and healthy fats, you probably will see weight loss.
If you abuse the “everything in moderation” concept, you probably won’t.
The beauty of this is that you can ask yourself, “What is the Mediterranean diet for me?” If your goals are to lose weight, you can give this a try with that in mind. It’s all you, boo.
Honestly, there’s probably no harm in at least giving it a try.
Because as we know, a calorie deficit is ultimately what leads to weight loss.
Related Reading: Is Low-Carb Really The Way to Go for Weight Loss?
More fruit, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and nuts will primarily impact other aspects of health (like heart health). Do with that what you will.
Recipes To Give It A Try
I love Pinterest, ya know. Here are some Mediterranean diet recipes that looked amazing:
- Grilled Salmon with Avocado Greek Salza
- Cucumber Greek Salad
- Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
- Greek “Nachos”
- Mediterranean Meatball Gyros
- Olive Oil Pasta
- Mediterranean Pasta Salad
So, if someone posed the question, “What is the Mediterranean diet?” would you be comfortable explaining it to them? Could you explain to them the benefits of this eating style?
I hope this helped some of you who were curious! Let me know what you think about this diet by dropping a comment below!