The Mediterranean Diet plan is a system that became popular during the last decade, partially as a response to some other unbalanced fad diets like Atkins, Paleo (Atkins 2.0), the Ketogenic diet (Atkins 3.0), blood type diets, fruitarianism (a vegan extreme form of the raw diets that focuses on high-carb and "fruit only" nutrition) ... we could go on. Touting itself as less of a "diet" by popular terms and more of a lifestyle, the Mediterranean Diet Plan focuses on balance, clean eating and enjoying food and cooking rather than deprivation and restriction.
Lately the Mediterranean Diet plan has experienced a resurrection of sorts due to several factors, but especially as the backlash against the more extreme keto and fasting-based diets that seem to rule the headlines these days. In this article, we'll look at how this plan works, what its benefits are and how some people who have used the plan feel about their results and overall health.
What Is The Mediterranean Diet Plan?
Simple, Healthy, and Fresh
The Mediterranean Diet is modeled after the foods and habits of people in Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Southern Italy, Turkey, Spain and even Morocco and many Middle Eastern countries. The reasoning for this began with large population nutritional studies where researchers found that people in these countries had much lower instances of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and its related illnesses and even some types of cancer. As they researched further, nutrition experts found correlations and even direct causation linking these healthier people to their diets and lifestyle choices,
So what does the Mediterranean diet comprise? Well, if you've ever been to a Greek, Persian or Lebanese restaurant, you'll probably already have an idea. A huge variety of grains, fresh vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes make up the bulk of the diet, with fish, yogurts and unprocessed sugars (honey, fruits) making up another large section of the Mediterranean food pyramid. Bread, alcohol, and sweets are not off limits, though the plan encourages you to limit them, and there is a focus on fresh, organic, locally sourced products.
Activity and Stress Level Just As Important as Food
Most experts say a large component of the Mediterranean Diet plan has little to do with the diet at all as researchers say your exercise habits and stress levels also play a big roll. The Mediterranean Diet plan is thus not only about the goal of losing weight or feeling good after the diet is complete, it's about enjoying oneself, diet or no.
The focus on balance in what one is eating and also in one's life seems to be a key component no matter what kind of research is being looked at. Rather than restriction, deprivation, tracking calories and macros and focusing on an end goal, this plan stresses enjoying the ride and then celebrating when you meet your goals. Being nice to yourself as part of a diet plan? Count us in!
The Mediterranean Diet Plan
Despite the Mediterranean Diet plan really being a lifestyle change and also being loose parameter-wise, there are guidelines helpful for those just starting out, so let's look at those parameters and some easy recipes to get started. We'll also look at some success stories of people who have gone through the transition to a more natural, fun and rewarding Mediterranean-style life.
As we've discussed so far, the Mediterranean Diet plan is based on the culinary customs of people from the Mediterranean region. Rice and other ancient grains, such as farro, barley, and oats, factor in as staples, as do many fresh vegetables, herbs, and healthy oils. Beans are also a big component, as grain-and-legume-based salads and dips, like tabouleh, hummus, babaganoush, and saffron rice, are mainstays on almost every Mediterranean table.
Vegetables are served both fresh and cooked as are greens. Dairy-based dishes like yogurt and tzatziki and meat-based dishes like moussaka all have veggies like cucumbers of eggplant as the stars of the show. Dishes are simple and prepared with healthy fats like olive or nut oils, and fish and beans are more common than red meat. Red wine, sweets, bread, and pastas are all on the menu with the Mediterranean Diet.
It's important to note that those on the Mediterranean Diet plan should not feel restricted to only Mediterranean foods. If you really don't like dolmas or red wine, you do not have to eat those things. Prefer avocado oil over olive? Fine. Live in a part of the world where fresh, local tomatoes and lemons and stone fruits aren't always available? No need to ship them in. The Mediterranean diet, above all else, is about finding the highest quality and freshest, healthy ingredients for any recipe, staying away from processed junk and, above all, enjoying one's food and life.
Before we go into recipes, let's look at some simple guidelines to follow, no matter what regional cuisine you prefer:
- Switch out your butter or other animal fats for oils low in saturated fat like olive, avocado, walnut or even vegetable oil.
- Opt for whole grains like rice, farro or even quinoa (we know, it's a seed not a grain) over refined breads and pastas, but if you want some bread, you're allowed to have some!
- Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your day by snacking on them with your favorite healthy dip or incorporating them into your meals.
- Substitute fish, legumes or beans for red meat, opting for red meat only a few times a week.
- Switch high-fat dairy skim or one percent milk, try plant-based milks and swap out sugary yogurts and even sour cream with Greek yogurt.
- Make small swaps like mayonnaise for hummus, snack on veggies for crackers and try more fish or plant-based proteins over red meats.
- Share meals with friends. Make food and eating enjoyable and social!
- Sweets and wines are ok in moderation, but just like with the rest of the plan, look for or make recipes that are whole food-based, natural and local.
While followers of the Mediterranean Diet plan don't have to eat only Mediterranean-style foods, there are easy and fun recipes that will make life a lot easier for meal prep, snacking and family meals. Let's look at a few:
Easy, Creamy Hummus
- 1 15-oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 1-2 cloves garlic (to taste)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice *freshly squeezed preferred)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Water as needed (only a few tablespoons)
- Salt to taste
- Paprika to taste
In a food processor, combine tahini, lemon juice, garlic and half the olive oil. Process on medium until ingredients are creamy and well-incorporated. Drain and rinse chickpeas. Add half the can of chickpeas and process on medium high for at least one minute. Drizzle in some remaining olive oil, add salt and a tablespoon of water for a creamy texture.
Turn off food processor and scrape the sides. Add the rest of the can of chickpeas and process again on medium high for at least one minute, adding in the rest of the olive oil and one to two more tablespoons of water if needed. Transfer to a bowl and add a small drizzle of olive oil to top along with paprika if desired.
Ridiculously Easy Quinoa Flax Tabouleh (Makes Six Servings)
- 1 1/2 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
- 1 15-oz can chickpeas or white (cannellini) beans
- 3 tablespoons flax meal (ground flax)
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1 tomato, diced (or 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes)
- 1/2 small red onion
- 3 tablespoons Italian parsley or cilantro, chopped
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive, walnut or avocado oil
- Salt to taste
In a large bowl, combine all prepared ingredients and stir thoroughly. That's it! Salad tastes best after at least 3 hours marinating.
Healthy Baked Falafel
- One 15-oz. can chickpeas, well drained
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour (you could also try using panko breadcrumbs or whole wheat breadcrumbs. Note: to make this gluten-free, use chickpea flour)
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon. chopped fresh cilantro (can omit if you don't like cilantro)
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/8 tsp. paprika, or more to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add all ingredients to a food processor and process on low to medium until processed roughly and well-combined. Transfer to a bowl and use a fork or potato masher to break up any remaining large pieces mix in the baking powder. Spray a baking sheet thoroughly with olive oil nonstick spray or brush with olive oil if no spray.
Use a teaspoon and your hands to form balls of the mixture and place on pre-greased sheet. Spray the top of each ball with olive oil nonstick spray or brush with olive oil. Put back in a 375-degree oven for 15 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste at the end. Serve with hummus or tzatziki. Great in a pita!
For more great Mediterranean-style recipes and an easy-to-follow 7-day plan, check out the following resources:
So how does the Mediterranean diet stack up in terms of results? People report feeling happier and healthier, and it's interesting to note how many testimonies we looked at reporting a shift from focusing on the numbers to focusing on how they felt on the Mediterranean Diet plan. Some had a few gripes (mostly related to meal prep and organization) but in most of our testimonies, we see success! Let's check out a few:
"At first, it was super-challenging to keep the kitchen clean and organized. The more the dishes piled up, the less I wanted to make meals...I ultimately spent less time in the kitchen than when I’d do everything possible to avoid it. (Mind. Blown.) Because the foods I was eating kept me full for (way) longer than the instant-gratification eats I’d usually turn to, it also freed my mind to focus on other things—I was no longer obsessing over which shortcut I should use next to stave off the hunger pangs that were inevitable."
"I assumed that by Day 7, I'd be excited to finish the challenge, but really, things hadn't been hard at all. I had to spend more time planning my meals, but that's standard with any diet change. Above all else, it was easy to maintain, which is a major plus in my book. So easy, in fact, that I'll continue loosely following the meal plan."
“It’s amazing how good I feel today (after losing 60 pounds on the Mediterranean Diet plan). I have more energy than I know what to do with and I can handle stress with ease,” she says. “My confidence is through the roof — I feel like I can do anything. I get little happy bursts in my head — those are natural endorphins doing what they are supposed to do.”
While not the most regimented plan and not necessarily the quickest in terms of weight loss results, experts and almost 3,000 studies suggest the Mediterranean Diet plan is one of the most sustainable weight loss plans. More than that, studies from leading research facilities like The Mayo Clinic suggest not just correlation but a causation of lowering health risks for everything from heart disease to depressive and other mental disorders on this plan.
While it might be tricky to get used to, those committed to a long-term change in lifestyle including weight loss, general health and reduction of stress would be remiss in not trying the plan. For those who want sustained results and a general better balance in overall health and happiness, the Mediterranean Diet plan is not just a diet but a way of life.