Since there’s no fixed set of rules on how to start the Mediterranean diet, it can be difficult to figure out where to begin. Below, we’ll lay it all out for you, including:
- What the Mediterranean diet is
- A breakdown of Mediterranean diet benefits
- What specialized Mediterranean diets look like
- A Mediterranean diet meal plan (including a vegetarian Mediterranean diet food list)
- Easy Mediterranean diet recipes to get you started
What is the Mediterranean diet?
Simply put, it’s a manner of eating patterned on traditional eating habits in countries that border the Mediterranean, like Italy and Greece.
Certain areas of the Mediterranean fall within a “blue zone,” which is a region where a notable number of people live longer than average. This is likely due to a number of lifestyle and environmental factors, but because what you eat is a part of that, it’s assumed that a traditional Mediterranean diet plays a role in the overall health of people in these areas. But how?
Mediterranean diet benefits
Mediterranean diet for weight loss
The DIRECT trial, a study conducted in Israel and published in The New England Journal of Medicine, compared the rate of weight loss between three groups. Group one, the low-fat diet group, lost the least amount of weight on average. Group two, the Mediterranean diet group, lost more weight than group one. Group three, the low carb diet group, lost more weight than those in groups one and two, making a strong case for adding a low carb twist to your Mediterranean diet.
Mediterranean diet heart health
In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists in Spain assigned a group of people at high cardiovascular risk to follow either a Mediterranean diet (supplemented with nuts or olive oil) or a low-fat diet. The researchers concluded that “the incidence of major cardiovascular events was lower among those assigned to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts than among those assigned to a reduced-fat diet. “
Mediterranean diet anti-inflammatory effects
Additional research from the same group that conducted the Spanish study indicated that the Mediterranean diet had anti-inflammatory properties. Those in the group that followed the Mediterranean diet had a lower level of circulating inflammatory biomarkers than the low-fat diet group.
Specialized Mediterranean diets
Because there is no single “standard” Mediterranean diet, it can be adapted to suit what works for you. If you are on a low carb Atkins diet plan, need to follow an anti-inflammatory regimen, are a practicing vegetarian, or are a diabetic managing your blood sugar, you can adapt the Atkins diet to incorporate many of the important aspects of a Mediterranean diet.
Atkins, low carb, or keto Mediterranean diet
If you know that you do best on an Atkins diet, or any other diet low in carbs, you’ll already have a good idea of what works for you and can adjust the Mediterranean diet as needed.
- Fill your plate with colorful vegetables.
- Enjoy moderate amounts of dairy and eggs.
- Round out your meals with nuts, poultry, fish and seafood.
- Cook with olive oil and add flavor to your food with fresh herbs and spices.
- Limit legumes and whole grains, depending on your personal carb tolerance.
Learn more about health benefits of Atkins versus the Mediterranean diet.
Green Mediterranean diet
For those that are flexitarian, vegetarian, or vegan, your plant-based diet can have a lower-carb Mediterranean twist. Instead of animal proteins, the green Mediterranean diet leans on plant-based proteins, healthy fats, legumes, and whole grains to meet your daily requirements.
Mediterranean anti-inflammatory diet
Often recommended for controlling health issues, pain, and more, the anti-inflammatory diet has a lot of crossover with both Atkins and the Mediterranean diet.
Mediterranean diet for diabetics
Frequently studied for its effects on cardiovascular health, when researchers studied the Mediterranean diet for diabetes, they found good results in the form of lower A1C scores. Those with type 2 diabetes also improved on a low carb diet—great news if you’re thinking of adding some Mediterranean flair to your Atkins plan.
Atkins Mediterranean diet food list
This lower-carb variation of the Mediterranean food list is tailored to providing the right amounts of carbs, protein, and fat.
- Colorful vegetables
- Low-glycemic fruits
- Nuts and seeds
- Controlled portions of legumes like beans, chickpeas, and peanuts
- Herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary, and basil
- A variety of fish, as well as shellfish like shrimp and mussels
- Extra virgin olive oil
Eat moderate amounts of
- Meats like pork and poultry
- Products with added sugar like sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, and ice cream
- Refined grain products like white bread and cereal
- Trans fats, often seen in microwave meals and margarine
- Processed meats like hot dogs, hamburgers, and salami
Vegetarian low carb Mediterranean diet food list
The “focus on” food list above is pretty veggie friendly—just make sure to get enough protein through legumes, nuts, eggs, and seeds. Greek yogurt is another great protein option when eaten in moderation, but make sure you buy unsweetened, full-fat Greek yogurt as many yogurts contain added sugar.
Example low carb Mediterranean diet meal plan
1 Cup cubed cantaloupe
Quick Italian chicken skillet or vegetarian-friendly margherita pizza
½ Cup whole wheat macaroni
½ Tbsp olive oil (served on pasta)
1 Cup sliced cucumber
½ Cup hummus
½ Tbsp olive oil drizzled over hummus
Greek peasant salad with chicken
½ Cup cooked quinoa
Mediterranean diet recipes
For more low carb, Mediterranean-style recipes, check out our roundup of Atkins-friendly picks, or search our recipe database. Andiamo!