Each year, there's more evidence that this eating style is the best way to lose weight. Here's a go-to guide to help you get started.

By By Karla Walsh and Nancy Gottesman
Updated: April 04, 2019
Photo: Olinda/Shutterstock

The keto diet and Whole30 may be getting their moments in the social media sun, but the Mediterranean diet plan continues to trump all others-just ask U.S. News & World Report-for being easy to stick to and good for your body. (After all, you can score these five health benefits from eating Mediterranean diet foods.) The best part: It's a program you can follow for life, without feeling like you're constantly restricting your calories or giving up foods you really love.

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

Think of the Mediterranean diet as a pyramid-you'll see fish, legumes, and seasonal fruits and vegetables in the consume-with-gusto level at the bottom. Whole grains and olive oil are in the next tier, followed by lean meats and poultry, local dairy, and wine. The top of the pyramid illustrates eating limited quantities of red meat and added sugars such as honey, says Jessica Beacom, R.D., cofounder of The Real Food Dietitians. One of the most important things to know about a Mediterranean diet menu? Nothing is completely off limits-including dessert. (Want the full breakdown? Read: What Is the Mediterranean Diet Anyway?)

When and How to Eat On the Mediterranean Diet Plan

There's no need to watch the clock and eat within a set time frame or to journal every bite. Instead, focus on three meals and one snack each day that are filled with plant-based foods, a moderate amount of protein (mainly from fish), and a bit of dairy, suggests Stacie Hassing, R.D., another cofounder of The Real Food Dietitians. "Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full, and focus on whole and minimally processed foods whenever possible," adds Beacom.

If you're the counting kind, here's a rough breakdown from Wendy Bazilian, R.D., author of The SuperFoods Rx Diet of the ideal macros on the Mediterranean diet plan.

  • 50 percent carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains
  • 35 percent fats from healthy oils, nuts, seeds, and fish
  • 15 percent protein from legumes, fish, nuts, dairy, poultry, and eggs

Don't feel like you have to totally revamp your current eating habits. "Apply the Mediterranean diet plan principles in a way that's realistic for your current health and lifestyle, rather than having a strict set of rules and restrictions," says Hassing. For example, if you live in an area that has limited access to wild-caught salmon, swap in a similar monounsaturated fat–strong fish such as halibut or mackerel. Don't love zoodles? Mix up your faux pasta game plan with antioxidant-rich beet noodles instead. (Another option: These seven creative combinations for spiralized vegetables.)

Whatever you do, don't shy away from flavor. Basic grilled fish and steamed whole-grain starches can be boring on their own, but adding ingredients like garlic, rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano can totally transform a dish. "I love to spice up my Mediterranean diet menu with herbs and spices for more flavor and an antioxidant boost," says Molly Rieger, R.D., celebrity nutritionist and dietitian for the New York City-based fitness studio Dogpound. She's not kidding: "Just half a teaspoon of dried oregano has as many antioxidants as 3 cups of spinach," says Bazilian .

6 Reasons to Try a Mediterranean Diet

You don't just lose pounds-the Mediterranean diet also helps you feel better and live longer.

1. Lasting weight loss. How can a diet that features nuts, oils, pasta, bread, and wine help you lose weight? Because it makes you feel full and therefore holds hunger at bay. The healthy fats and protein in the Mediterranean diet keep your glucose (blood sugar) level on an even keel, which means you'll be less apt to hunt down chips, cookies, or fast food to get through the day.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet for two years lost more weight than low-fat dieters and maintained their 10-pound loss. "You don't feel hungry," explains Meir Stampfer, M.D., DrPH, a coauthor of the study and a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston. Don't believe us about protein's fill power? Dr. Stampfer suggests this little experiment: "One morning, eat white toast and jam for breakfast. The next day have scrambled eggs." The egg meal, Dr. Stampfer promises, will leave you more energetic and a lot less hungry at 11 a.m.

2. A strong, healthy heart. Eating Mediterranean decreases practically every heart-disease risk factor, including high blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. "There's no single aspect of the diet that keeps your heart healthy," says Dr. Stampfer; it's the synergy of all the diet's elements. Antioxidants in fruits, vegetables, and beans help prevent atherosclerosis that can make plaque build up in arteries. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish lower blood pressure, arrhythmia risk, and triglyceride levels. Olive oil lessens LDL ("bad") cholesterol. And wine and other spirits in moderation may lower heart-disease risk.

3. Diabetes prevention. In an Annals of Internal Medicine study, even without cutting calories, those at high-risk for cardiovascular disease could reduce their diabetes risk by following a Mediterranean diet plan. Other research shows that the diet helps people with pre-diabetes lower their blood sugar enough to avoid developing full-blown type 2 diabetes. (Related: 50 Mediterranean Recipes and Meal Ideas)

4. Better eyesight. The diet could help stave off or prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss after age 54. The condition, which affects more than 10 million Americans, destroys the part of your retina responsible for the clear central vision you need to read, drive, and recognize faces. Research has linked eating fish and vegetables to a reduced risk of getting it early, and the omega-3 fatty acids in fish can lower the risk of the disease altogether. What's more, the lutein in green leafy vegetables cuts your chance of cataracts and boosts retinal health, says Dr. Willett.

5. Reduced Alzheimer's risk. Eating Mediterranean may help cut your chance of Alzheimer's disease by 40 percent, shows a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And people who added regular exercise to the diet were 60 percent less likely to get Alzheimer's.

6. Longer life. A meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal found the diet significantly improved health and led to an 8-percent reduction in death from heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Other studies have found that the diet's healthy fats may lessen the inflammation and pain of rheumatoid arthritis and cut the risk of getting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) by 60 percent.

7-Day Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan

You don't need a special Mediterranean diet cookbook to stick to this eating routine. We snagged a full week's worth of simple meal and snack ideas from dietitians and our recipe archives to build this complete seven-day Mediterranean diet plan.

Mediterranean Diet Breakfasts

  • 1 whole-wheat English muffin + 2 tablespoons peanut butter + 1 sliced apple or peach
  • 3/4 cup cooked quinoa + 1/2 cup prepared bruschetta + 1 soft-boiled or poached egg
  • 1 slice Sweet Potato Frittata
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal + 1/2 cup cherries (can be thawed from frozen) + 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt + 1 tablespoon honey + 1/2 cup berries (can be thawed from frozen) + 1 tablespoon TopBit Mixed Berry Protein Powder
  • 1 cup warm no-sugar-added marinara + 1 poached egg + 2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese + 1/2 whole-wheat pita
  • 2 slices Ezekiel bread + 1/4 avocado, sliced + 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Mediterranean Diet Lunches

Mediterranean Diet Dinners

Mediterranean Diet Snacks

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