Mediterranean Diet: Health Benefits, 8 Steps & Meal Plan

Clinical review: Tatiana Zanin
Registered Dietitian
May 2022

The Mediterranean diet is based on two very simple principles: 1) eating fresh natural foods, such as olive oil, fruits, vegetables, cereals, milk, and cheese, and 2) avoiding industrially processed foods, such as frozen meals, fast food or meat products.

This type of diet is aimed at encouraging healthy eating rather than food restriction, and it works by providing the body with essential nutrients that help improve metabolism and encourage weight loss.

The Mediterranean diet is relatively easy to adhere to, as you do not need to reduce calorie intake drastically to lose weight. 

Health benefits 

The Mediterranean diet is not used solely for weight loss. It's a healthy eating lifestyle that can have major health benefits such as:

  • Reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and degenerative diseases
  • Preventing arteriosclerosis and clots
  • Preventing cognitive decline and Alzheimer's
  • Weight loss

To reap the most benefits from the Mediterranean diet, you should give preference to fresh, non-processed, seasonal, and local foods. You should also try to buy from small markets and fruit shops, rather than from big supermarkets. 

8 steps to getting started 

There are 8 simple rules that can help anyone get started with and adhere to the Mediterranean diet:

1. Avoid processed foods 

Your diet must be based on natural products, particularly plant-based foods, such as olive oil, brown rice or soy. In addition, you should avoid processed foods, such as frozen meals, fast food or meat products, and opt for homemade versions instead.

Eliminating processed foods will help decrease the accumulation of toxins inside the body, which can reduce inflammation, help with weight loss and treat fluid retention.

2. Eat fish and seafood 3 times a week

You should eat fish or seafood at least three times a week, as these are great sources for animal protein and healthy fats like omega-3. These are natural anti-inflammatories and can help to relieve pain in the joints, improve blood circulation and prevent heart disease. 

3. Use olive oil regularly

Olive oil and other vegetable oils, such as canola and flaxseed oils, are rich in healthy fats that can help reduce high cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease.

To reap these benefits, you should get into the habit of adding olive oil or other plant-based oil to your food. You should aim for 2 tablespoon per day. Olive oil can also be used when cooking, frying or grilling.

4. Eat more whole-grain foods

The Mediterranean diet is rich in whole foods such as rice, whole-wheat flour, oats, and whole-wheat pasta, which are rich in vitamins and minerals. These foods improve body functions, fight constipation and decrease sugar absorption in the intestine.

Besides whole-grain foods, your diet should also include protein-rich vegetables such as beans, soy, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and flaxseed, which also help strengthen muscles and improve metabolism.

5. Eat more fruits and leafy greens 

Increasing your intake of fruits and leafy greens can provide you with fiber, vitamins and minerals that speed up metabolism and stimulate satiety, which helps with weight loss. You are advised to eat at least three different types of fruit a day. A good habit is to eat one piece of fruit after each meal.

6. Opt for skim milk and low-fat milk products 

To improve your diet and decrease body fat, choose skim milk, eat natural yogurt and white cheeses, such as ricotta or cottage, and always choose skim or low-fat versions. If you feel like you need to sweeten natural yogurt, you can add a teaspoon of honey or jam.  

7. Avoid eating red meat

Red meat should be limited to only once a week, so that there is room for meals with other good protein sources such as eggs, fish, and whole-grain foods, such as rice and beans, rice and lentils or rice and peas.

8. Only drink water

Water is the best fluid to quench thirst. If you don't like the flavor of plain water, you can flavor your water by adding lemon or ginger slices to a jar of water. You can also have one glass of wine, approx. 6 oz (180 ml) per day.

Mediterranean diet meal plan 

Here is an example of a 3-day Mediterranean diet meal plan:

 Day 1Day 2Day 3
Breakfast1 glass of skim milk + 1 wholegrain bread roll with ricotta + 1 slice of papayaBanana and apple smoothie made with skim milk  + 2 tablespoons of oatsPorridge made with 200 ml of skim milk + 2 tablespoons of oats + 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
Morning Snack3 wholegrain slices of toast + butter + 2 chestnuts1 cup of green smoothie made with cabbage, lemon, and carrot + 3 plain cookies or corn crackers1 natural yogurt + 1 teaspoon of chia seeds
LunchHalf a salmon fillet + 2 boiled potatoes drizzled in olive oil and broccoli 1 grilled chicken breast with tomato sauce + 4 tablespoons of brown rice + 2 tablespoons of beansTuna pasta with pesto sauce. Use whole-grain pasta 
Afternoon Snack1 natural yogurt + 1 teaspoon of flaxseed + 1 tapioca with low-fat cheese + 1 banana1 natural yogurt + 1 whole-grain bread roll with cottage cheese  + 6 strawberries1 cup of beetroot, carrot, ginger, lemon, and apple smoothie + 1 wholegrain bread roll with ricotta cheese 
Dinner1 chicken thigh cooked with 2 tablespoons of peas  + fresh lettuce salad with tomato and red onion  + 1 pear1 grilled turkey steak + salad of cabbage, grated carrot and beetroot + 1 slice of pineapple1 omelet made with 2 eggs + panfried cabbage with onion, garlic and eggplant + 1 orange

This meal plan is best if you use fresh vegetables and fruits, and it's important you add 1 tablespoon of olive oil on your plate at lunch and dinner. 

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Atualizado por Tua Saude editing team, em May de 2022. Clinical review por Tatiana Zanin - Registered Dietitian, em May de 2022.
Clinical review:
Tatiana Zanin
Registered Dietitian
Graduated in Clinical Nutrition in 2001 and has a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition. Licensed to practice under the CRN-3 in Brazil and the ON in Portugal