Best Mediterranean Diet Food List

The Mediterranean diet is a top-ranked eating pattern.

“The Mediterranean diet isn’t any one specific diet. It’s not a specific food or a single ingredient. It’s very much an inclusive, sustainable diet that’s relatively diverse in terms of what’s included,” says Michelle MacDonald, clinical dietitian supervisor at National Jewish Health in Denver.

The Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle and an approach to food and fitness that harkens back to the culinary traditions of societies that have developed around the Mediterranean Sea. Think Italy, Spain, Greece and North Africa.

It favors plant-based foods, but also includes some lean proteins, seafood and dairy products. “It can include some lean red meat if people choose to eat that,” MacDonald says. And while no food or food group is specifically excluded, the eating pattern favors whole, seasonal produce and limited added sugars, processed foods and meat.

“I think what’s sometimes very obvious is that there’s a lack of processed food” on the Mediterranean diet, MacDonald says. Still, there can be some processed foods, she notes, given that in some parts of Italy pasta is a staple. And, depending on how it’s served, pasta can be a healthy option.

Overall, Mediterranean diet traditions feature “less reliance on fast and processed foods,” and more home cooking, with locally available produce taking precedence over imported or prepared items.

“In a lot of ways,” MacDonald says, “it’s simple food that’s home cooked and made from locally sourced ingredients.”

The Mediterranean lifestyle supports overall health.

The Mediterranean diet offers many health benefits, ranging from heart health to cancer prevention and much more.

Kathryn Parker, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist with Aviv Clinics in The Villages, Florida, says “the variety that a Mediterranean diet provides is key because it helps to improve your gut microbiome.”

Researchers are still working to unravel the full complexities of how the gut microbiome influences overall health, but it’s clear that having a healthy gut is beneficial, and certain foods can help support the bacteria that thrive there.

The Mediterranean is full of high-fiber foods that “feed your microbiome,” Parker says. They do this by contributing to the prebiotics (a type of fiber) that the bacteria that live in the gut thrive on.

Mediterranean diet foods also contain “a great amount of fiber that helps prevent constipation,” another upside to this eating pattern, Parker explains.

Best Mediterranean diet foods

If you’re new to the Mediterranean diet and wondering where to start with shopping and cooking, the next series of slides offers ideas and suggestions for foods that are compatible with the lifestyle. Mix, match, explore and try new Mediterranean diet recipes with these healthy foods.

Non-starchy vegetables

MacDonald says the cornerstone of the Mediterranean approach to eating is lots and lots of “colorful veggies.” Examples include:

Leafy greens, such as kale, spinach and chard.

— Bell peppers.

— Eggplants.

— Onions.

Tomatoes.

Brussels sprouts.

— Green beans.

— Asparagus.

— Broccoli and other cruciferous veggies.

Any and all of these items can be used in salads, and most turn out beautifully when drizzled with a little bit of olive oil and roasted with a pinch of salt and pepper. MacDonald says when roasting veggies, “finish it off with some fresh herbs or lemon” to make a bright, clean main dish. She says that herbs and spices are used liberally to boost flavor in Mediterranean cuisines.

You can also check out the local farmer’s market for seasonally available greens, which you can add to pasta or eat fresh in a salad.

Beans, legumes and pulses

As a plant-based diet, the Mediterranean diet makes wide use of various beans, legumes and pulses. These high-fiber and high-protein powerhouses can replace meat and other animal products while offering a range of health benefits. Some great choices include:

Chickpeas.

— Fava beans.

— Black beans.

— White beans.

— Peas.

— Lentils.

MacDonald says one of her go-to meals is a simple hummus she makes at home by draining a can of no-salt added chickpeas and tossing them in the blender. She adds some lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of salt and blends until it’s creamy for a delicious spread that’s healthy, high in protein and loaded with flavor. “You can add whatever else you want on top of that, whether it’s roasted red peppers, cilantro or other seasonings,” she says.

Refried beans are also an under-appreciated staple that fits in well with the Mediterranean diet, MacDonald says. They’re easy to make; start by sautéing onions, garlic, cumin and a touch of cayenne in a pan and add a can or two of drained, no-salt added black beans. “Mash them up and heat them and basically you’re done,” MacDonald says. Refried beans work well in tacos with salmon, some corn salsa and guacamole. Or make a bowl with grains, veggies and refried beans.

Any kind of bean or lentil also tends to shine in soups, stews and chilis. They also make delicious, high-protein and cholesterol-lowering plant-based swaps for the meat in your diet.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are high in fiber and loaded with heart-protective good fats. Just watch your portion size, as they’re also high in calories.

But nuts and seeds can help you feel fuller longer, which can help if you’re trying to manage your weight.

Most any kind of nut or seed has a place on the Mediterranean diet, provided it’s not coated in salt or honey roasted. Some delicious and versatile options include:

— Walnuts.

— Almonds.

— Flaxseeds.

— Pistachios.

— Chia seeds.

— Peanuts.

— Cashews.

— Hemp seeds.

Pumpkin seeds.

Fruit

As with vegetables, the more colorful the fruit, the better. The brighter the color, the more health-supporting and anti-inflammatory antioxidants and phytonutrients a plant contains. So look for:

Berries, such as blueberries, blackberries and strawberries.

— Persimmons.

— Pomegranates.

— Cherries.

— Peaches.

Citrus fruit.

— Red grapes.

— Olives.

Whole grains

Whole grains are plant foods that typically come from grasses such as wheat, barley or rice. What makes them “whole” is that they’ve been minimally processed. This means “they haven’t been milled to the point that their outer hull has been removed. They also have an intact seed or germ,” MacDonald explains. This means they carry a lot more fiber than their ultra-processed counterparts, as the outer hull is loaded with fiber, “and they’ve got the healthy fats that come from the germ, in addition to the starch that comes from the endosperm part of the grain.”

Whole grains you should add to your diet include:

Oatmeal.

— Brown rice.

— Wild rice.

— Barley.

— Buckwheat.

— Farro.

— Quinoa.

MacDonald notes that oatmeal is a champion whole grain. “I really like to promote oatmeal. I get that people think it’s boring and bland, but I think it’s such an easy, cheap, fast and good way to get through breakfast or a snack.”

If you buy in bulk, steel cut oatmeal costs just pennies per serving. “Throw them in the Instant Pot, and it’s hands-free. You’re done with breakfast forever.”

If you’re eating bread, MacDonald recommends selecting types that have 3 to 5 or more grams of fiber per serving.

Though buckwheat is less common on many American menus, MacDonald notes that it makes a great addition to stews and soups, as can barley, farro and quinoa. Though technically not a grain — quinoa is actually a seed — it’s typically treated like a grain, and it makes a great, high-protein side dish and works well in salads, soups and other dishes.

Lean proteins

While the Mediterranean diet is considered a plant-based diet, there’s room in this approach for some lean animal proteins, especially seafood. MacDonald recommends eating “some type of fish or seafood every week.”

While variety is the key, MacDonald personally prefers seafood that’s higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in mercury. (Omega-3s are an essential fat that helps cells repair themselves, and it’s been linked with better heart health among other benefits.)

Seafood products that deliver lots of omega-3s with typically lower mercury levels include:

— Salmon.

— Rainbow trout.

— Herring.

— Mackerel.

— Sardines.

— Mussels.

Dairy and eggs

While dairy and eggs should play a secondary role in a Mediterranean diet, they certainly do show up. Yogurt, especially higher-in-protein Greek yogurt is a great way to incorporate dairy into your diet.

When selecting a yogurt, MacDonald recommends looking for varieties that have less sugar. “Most (plain) yogurt will have 8 or 9 grams of sugar in it, but that’s lactose,” which is a sugar found in milk. “It’s not added sugar, and 8 or 9 grams is not something to worry about. If it’s a lot more than that, you can presume the difference is added sugar,” she says. Skip it in favor of plain yogurt and add some berries.

When it comes to cheese, MacDonald recommends keeping it to 1 to 2 ounces per week, which helps keep your intake of saturated fat lower. That said, if you’re using cheese, opt for full-fat varieties rather than nonfat. “Just use less of it,” MacDonald says.

You can substitute guacamole or refried beans for cheese in some dishes like tacos and burritos, and you may not even miss the cheese. Or sprinkle just a little bit of cotija cheese.

Mediterranean diet best foods list:

— Non-starchy vegetables.

— Beans, legumes and pulses.

— Nuts and seeds.

— Fruit.

— Whole grains.

— Lean proteins.

— Dairy and eggs.

More from U.S. News

10 Best Mediterranean Diet Snacks

16 Tips From Real People to Succeed on the Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Eating Habits That Support Healthy Aging

Best Mediterranean Diet Food List originally appeared on usnews.com

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