Here’s a sample meal plan for Mediterranean diet that you can use to design your own 500 – 1000 calorie daily menu. As a rule, the total amount of fat in the diet should not exceed 30 percent of calories. Of this, saturated fat should make up no more than 10 percent. Maximize your Mediterranean diet results by following this simple sample meal plan. You will discover what works best when you’re eating the Mediterranean diet – and it may not be what you’re expecting!
Mediterranean Diet 101: A Meal Plan and Beginner’s Guide
Rich in flavorful ingredients like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats, the Mediterranean diet is equal parts delicious and nutritious.
It’s also associated with a variety of benefits and may help support brain function, promote heart health, regulate blood sugar levels, and more.
Although there are no concrete rules for how to follow the Mediterranean diet, there are many general guidelines you can follow to incorporate the principles of the diet into your daily routine.
This article takes a closer look at what the Mediterranean diet is, how to follow it, and how it can affect your health.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Spain, Greece, and Italy.
Researchers noted that these people were exceptionally healthy and had a low risk of many chronic conditions
Although there are no strict rules or regulations for the diet, it typically encourages fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and heart-healthy fats. Processed foods, added sugar, and refined grains should be restricted
Numerous studies have now shown that the Mediterranean diet can promote weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and premature death
For this reason, the Mediterranean diet is often recommended for those looking to improve their health and protect against chronic disease.
The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a long list of health benefits.
Promotes heart health
The Mediterranean diet has been studied extensively for its ability to promote heart health.
In fact, research shows that the Mediterranean diet may even be linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke
One study compared the effects of the Mediterranean diet and a low fat diet and reported that the Mediterranean diet was more effective at slowing the progression of plaque buildup in the arteries, which is a major risk factor for heart disease
Other research shows that the Mediterranean diet could also help lower levels of diastolic and systolic blood pressure to support heart health
Supports healthy blood sugar levels
The Mediterranean diet encourages a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats.
As such, following this eating pattern may help stabilize blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes
Interestingly, multiple studies have found that the Mediterranean diet can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and improve levels of hemoglobin A1C, a marker used to measure long-term blood sugar control
The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to decrease insulin resistance, a condition that impairs the body’s ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar levels effectively
Protects brain function
Several studies show that the Mediterranean diet could be beneficial for brain health and may even protect against cognitive decline as you get older.
For example, one study including 512 people found that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with improved memory and reductions in several risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease
Other research has found that the Mediterranean diet may be tied to a lower risk of dementia, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease
What’s more, one large review also showed that following the Mediterranean diet was linked to improvements in cognitive function, memory, attention, and processing speed in healthy older adults
How to follow it
- Eat: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil
- Eat in moderation: poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt
- Eat rarely: red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils, and other highly processed foods
Foods to eat
Exactly which foods belong to the Mediterranean diet is controversial, partly because there’s variation between countries.
The diet examined by most studies is high in healthy plant foods and relatively low in animal products and meat. However, eating fish and seafood is recommended at least twice a week.
The Mediterranean lifestyle also involves regular physical activity, sharing meals with other people, and minimizing stress levels.
You can include a mix of fresh, frozen, dried, and canned fruits and vegetables, but check package labels for added sugar and sodium.
Ideally, you should base your diet on these healthy Mediterranean foods:
- Vegetables: tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butters: almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almond butter, peanut butter
- Legumes: beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts, chickpeas
- Whole grains: oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat bread and pasta
- Fish and seafood: salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, mussels
- Poultry: chicken, duck, turkey
- Eggs: chicken, quail, and duck eggs
- Dairy: cheese, yogurt, milk
- Herbs and spices: garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper
- Healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, and avocado oil
Foods to limit
You should limit these processed foods and ingredients when following the Mediterranean diet:
- Added sugar: added sugar is found in many foods but especially high in soda, candies, ice cream, table sugar, syrup, and baked goods
- Refined grains: white bread, pasta, tortillas, chips, crackers
- Trans fats: found in margarine, fried foods, and other processed foods
- Refined oils: soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil
- Processed meat: processed sausages, hot dogs, deli meats, beef jerky
- Highly processed foods: fast food, convenience meals, microwave popcorn, granola bars
Water should be your go-to beverage on a Mediterranean diet.
This diet also includes moderate amounts of red wine — around one glass per day.
However, this is completely optional, and wine should be avoided by some people including, anyone who is pregnant, has difficulty drinking in moderation, or is taking certain medications that may interact with alcohol.
Coffee and tea are also healthy beverage choices on the Mediterranean diet. Be mindful of adding lots of added sugar or cream.
You’ll want to limit sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda or sweet tea, which are very high in added sugar. Fruit juice would be OK to include in moderation, but you’re better off choosing whole fruits to get the benefit of fiber.
Below is a sample menu for 1 week of meals on the Mediterranean diet.
Feel free to adjust the portions and food choices based on your own needs and preferences, and add snacks as desired.
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with strawberries and chia seeds
- Lunch: a whole grain sandwich with hummus and vegetables
- Dinner: a tuna salad with greens and olive oil, as well as a fruit salad
- Breakfast: oatmeal with blueberries
- Lunch: caprese zucchini noodles with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar
- Dinner: a salad with tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, farro, grilled chicken, and feta cheese
- Breakfast: an omelet with mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions
- Lunch: a whole grain sandwich with cheese and fresh vegetables
- Dinner: Mediterranean lasagna
- Breakfast: yogurt with sliced fruit and nuts
- Lunch: a quinoa salad with chickpeas
- Dinner: broiled salmon with brown rice and vegetables
- Breakfast: eggs and sautéed vegetables with whole wheat toast
- Lunch: stuffed zucchini boats with pesto, turkey sausage, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cheese
- Dinner: grilled lamb with salad and baked potato
- Breakfast: oatmeal with raisins, nuts, and apple slices
- Lunch: a whole grain sandwich with vegetables
- Dinner: Mediterranean pizza made with whole wheat pita bread and topped with cheese, vegetables, and olives
- Breakfast: an omelet with veggies and olives
- Lunch: falafel bowl with feta, onions, tomatoes, hummus, and rice
- Dinner: grilled chicken with vegetables, sweet potato fries, and fresh fruit
There’s usually no need to count calories or track macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) on the Mediterranean diet.
Our guide to the Mediterranean diet
Many doctors and dietitians recommend a Mediterranean diet to prevent disease and keep people healthy for longer.
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and it includes less ultra-processed foods and meat than a typical Western diet.
In this article, we explain what the Mediterranean diet is and provide a 7-day meal plan for people to follow.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
Essentially, following a Mediterranean diet means eating in the way that the people in the Mediterranean region traditionally ate.
A Mediterranean-style eating patternTrusted Source prioritizes the following foodsTrusted Source:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
- healthy fats like olive oil and nuts
- moderate amounts of seafood
- low amounts of dairy and red meat
- red wine in moderation
Of course, not everyone in the Mediterranean region eats in the same way, so the Mediterranean dietary pattern is meant to be used as a loose guide for a healthful diet that prioritizes plant-based foods.
The Mediterranean diet prioritizes healthy sources of fatTrusted Source like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
Building a meal plan
The Mediterranean diet puts a higher focus on plant foods than many other diets. Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are main ingredients in meals and snacks.
People following the diet typically cook these foods using healthful fats, such as olive oil, and add plenty of flavorful spices.
Meals may include small portions of fish, meat, or eggs.
Moderate amounts of red wine can be consumed on a Mediterranean style diet, but water and other unsweetened, zero calorie beverages like sparkling water should be used to stay hydrated throughout the day.
When following any healthy dietary pattern, including the Mediterranean diet, it’s best to reduce your consumption of the following foods:
- refined grains, such as white bread, white pasta, and pizza dough containing white flour
- trans fats which can be found in margarine and other processed foods
- foods with added sugars, such as pastries, sodas, and candies
- deli meats, hot dogs, and other processed meats
- ultra-processed foods like fast food
7-day meal plan
Here is an example of a 7-day Mediterranean diet meal plan:
- Vegetable and egg frittata served with sliced avocado on top of whole grain toast
For additional calories, add another egg to the toast.
- A large green salad topped with a baked salmon fillet, red onion, feta cheese, quinoa, and fresh tomatoes
- Whole-grain pita bread
- 2 ounces (oz) of hummus
- Spicy lentil soup with spinach
- Greek yogurt parfait made with walnuts, fresh berries, and chia seeds
For additional calories, add 1–2 oz of almonds.
- Greek chicken grain bowls with olives, cucumbers, and red onions
To increase the calorie content, add hummus or avocado.
- baked cod served with garlic roasted potatoes and asparagus
- Steel cut or rolled oats topped with fresh fruit, sliced almonds or almond butter, and a drizzle of honey.
- Mediterranean Chickpea and Farro Salad
- Mediterranean shrimp served over whole-wheat pasta
- Shakshuka: dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, onion and garlic, commonly spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper
- A large green salad topped with fresh vegetables, lentils, sunflower seeds, and grilled shrimp
- Roasted chicken with roasted root vegetables and Brussels sprouts
Add an artichoke for a hearty, filling meal.
- Sweet potato breakfast hash topped with a poached egg
- Lentil and tuna salad
- Mediterranean Pasta
- Chia pudding topped with fresh berries and almond butter
- Mediterranean White Bean Soup and a Greek Salad
- Baked fish with garlic and basil served with a caprese quinoa salad
- Overnight oats made with nut butter and berries
- Mediterranean Buddha bowl
- Balsamic roasted chicken and vegetables
There are many snack options available as part of the Mediterranean diet.
When following a Mediterranean dietary pattern, try to choose snacks that are made with nutritious ingredients. Here are a few options:
- fresh fruit paired with a handful of nuts
- unsweetened Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit and sunflower seeds
- hummus and fresh vegetables
- trail mix made with nuts and unsweetened dried fruit
- herb roasted chickpeas
- cottage cheese and berries
- a hard-boiled egg with a bit of cheese and fresh fruit
The Mediterranean diet receives a lot of attention from the medical community because many studies verify its benefits.
The benefits of a Mediterranean diet include:
Lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease
Evidence suggests that a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. A study that featured in The New England Journal of Medicine compared two Mediterranean diets with a control diet for almost 5 years.
The research suggested that the diet reduced the risk of cardiovascular issues, including stroke, heart attack, and death, by about 30 percent compared with the control group.
More studies are necessary to determine whether lifestyle factors, such as more physical activity and extended social support systems, are partly responsible for the lower incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries than in the United States.
Improving sleep quality
In a 2018 studyTrusted Source, researchers explored how the Mediterranean diet affects sleep.
Their research suggested that adhering to a Mediterranean diet may improve sleep quality in older adults. The diet did not seem to affect sleep quality in younger people.
The Mediterranean diet may also be helpful for people who are trying to lose weight.
A 2020 studyTrusted Source found that weight loss maintenance was twice as likely in subjects who adhered to a Mediterranean diet than in the control group.
Following a Mediterranean diet involves making long-term, sustainable dietary changes.
Generally speaking, a person should aim for a diet that is rich in natural foods, including plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and healthful fats.
Anyone who finds that the diet does not feel satisfying should talk to a dietitian. They can recommend additional or alternative foods to help increase satiety.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet? A Detailed Beginner’s Guide
When we think of a “diet” these days, we usually think of some kind of restriction that will help us reach a specific outcome, such as weight loss. The Mediterranean diet couldn’t be further from that. Rather, it encourages an eating pattern that includes the food staples of people who live in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Spain, Greece, Italy and France.
It also focuses on community when eating — think meals with family and friends and enjoyable conversation.
You’ll find that in their meals, Mediterranean dieters emphasize a plant-based eating approach loaded with vegetables and healthy fats, including olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish. It’s a diet known for being heart-healthy.
“This diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, nuts and legumes, and olive oil,” says Nancy L. Cohen, PhD, RD, a professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. On this plan, you’ll limit or avoid red meat, sugary foods, and dairy (though small amounts like yogurt and cheese are included).
Eating this way means you also have little room for processed fare. When you look at a plate, it should be bursting with color; traditional proteins like chicken may be more of a side dish compared with produce, which becomes the main event.
One thing you’ll find people love about the Mediterranean diet is the allowance of low to moderate amounts of red wine. “Moderate” means 5 ounces (oz) or less each day (that’s around one glass). It’s worth noting, though, that a daily glass of wine is not mandatory on this eating plan, and if you don’t already drink, this allowance isn’t a directive to start.
One-Pan Baked Oatmeal
CALORIES PER SERVING
Cooking or baking spray
2 ripe bananas
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups milk (of your choosing)
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 cups fresh berries (frozen would work, too!)
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 lemon, zested
Maple syrup, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large baking dish, mash two ripe bananas. Next, add oats, milk, and chia seeds. Stir to combine.
Add berries, walnuts, and lemon zest on top. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the liquid has absorbed.
Remove from oven, and drizzle on some maple syrup to your liking. Slice into individual pieces and enjoy!
Amount per serving
Dairy, Tree Nuts, Mediterranean, Gluten-Free, Heart-Healthy, Vegetarian, Low-Sodium, High-Fiber, Family-Friendly, Breakfast
Common Questions & Answers
What foods can’t you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
No food is banned, but the Mediterranean diet encourages limiting foods, such as red meat and sugary foods. Consume poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt moderately. In addition, most of the time, avoid soda, highly processed foods, and processed meats.
What’s an example of a Mediterranean diet breakfast?
Is oatmeal okay on the Mediterranean diet? What about cheese? Bananas?
If I’m on the Mediterranean diet, what can I put in my coffee?
What bread can you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
How Does the Mediterranean Diet Work?
Because it wasn’t developed ad hoc but is a style of eating in a region of people that evolved naturally over centuries, there’s no official way to follow the Mediterranean diet. It’s popular because it’s a well-rounded approach to eating that isn’t restrictive. Also worth noting is that two of the five so-called blue zones — areas where people live longer and have lower rates of disease — are located in Mediterranean cities (Ikaria in Greece and Sardinia in Italy).
Potential Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is famous for its touted health benefits, which may be attributed to its high produce content.
Indeed, people typically eat three to nine servings of vegetables and up to two servings of fruit a day on a Mediterranean diet.
These fresh, whole foods pack an array of disease-fighting antioxidants, and people who fill their diet with these foods have a lower risk of disease. Yet scientists don’t know if it’s the antioxidants or other compounds (or general healthy eating patterns) that are responsible for these advantages.
Here’s a snapshot of some possible Mediterranean diet health benefits.
A Healthier Heart
This eating approach may be most famous for its benefit to heart health, decreasing the risk of heart disease by, in part, lowering levels of cholesterol
and reducing mortality from cardiovascular conditions.
A Reduced Risk for Certain Cancers
Similarly, the Mediterranean diet has been linked with a lower likelihood of certain cancers,
such as breast cancer,
and some head and neck cancers.
A Sunnier Mood and a Lower Risk of Depression
If eating in the Mediterranean style prompts you to consume more fruit and vegetables, you’ll not only feel better physically, but your mental health will get a lift, too. Research shows that people who eat more raw fruit and veggies (particularly dark leafy greens like spinach, fresh berries, and cucumber) have fewer symptoms of depression, a better mood, and more life satisfaction.
Other research, published in Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health in July 2020, suggests a Mediterranean eating style can support mental health and may play a role in reducing symptoms of depression.
A Lower Risk of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Research has found that a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with better measures of general cognitive function.
Over time, the eating pattern may slow cognitive decline and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
A Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk and Better Diabetes Management
Emerging evidence suggests that eating this way offers protective effects for those who have or are at risk for type 2 diabetes.
For one thing, Mediterranean eating improves blood sugar control in those who already have diabetes, suggesting it can be a good way to manage the disease, according to a review of research.
What’s more, given that those with diabetes are at increased odds for cardiovascular disease, adopting this diet can help improve their heart health, according to research.
Fewer Osteoarthritis Complications
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects, the Mediterranean diet may also lower the risk of bone fractures, weight gain (which can put added pressure on the joints), and disability.
Can the Mediterranean Diet Lead to Weight Loss?
As a traditional way of eating for many cultures worldwide, the Mediterranean diet wasn’t designed for weight loss. It just so happens that one of the healthiest diets around the globe is also good for keeping your weight down.
One review looked at five trials on overweight and obese people and found that after one year those who followed a Mediterranean diet lost as much as 11 pounds (lb) more than low-fat eaters.
(They dropped between 9 and 22 lb total and kept it off for a year.) But that same study found similar weight loss in other diets, like low-carb diets and the American Diabetes Association diet. The results suggest, the researchers say, that “there is no ideal diet for achieving sustained weight loss in overweight or obese individuals.”
Yet a Mediterranean diet can be a varied and inclusive way to lose weight that ditches gimmicks and doesn’t require calorie or macronutrient counting they way other diets (looking at you, ketogenic diet) do. And with the emphasis on healthy fat, it’s satisfying, too. That said, in 2022 U.S. News & World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet No. 1 in the category Best Diets Overall and 12 in its list of Best Weight-Loss Diets.
It’s not a slam dunk, researchers note, and instead depends on how you eat. Portion sizes and fat amounts matter even in healthy diets like the Mediterranean.