Whether you're following the Mediterranean diet for weight loss or to live an overall healthier lifestyle, this nutritionist-backed guide is just what you need to get started.

By Karla Walsh and Nancy Gottesman
Updated January 19, 2021
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Credit: Claudia Totir/Getty

While keto and intermittent fasting may be getting their moments in the social media sun, the Mediterranean diet continues to reign supreme as the "best" diet — easy to follow and good for your body — according to U.S. News & World Report. (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.

Quick Refresher: 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., co-founder of The Real Food Dietitians. One of the most important things to know about a Mediterranean diet plan? Nothing is completely off-limits, including dessert. (Want more deets? Check out this guide to the Mediterranean diet.)

When and How to Eat On the Mediterranean Diet Plan

Whether you're following a specific Mediterranean diet meal plan or just adopting more whole foods into your diet, there's no need to watch the clock and eat within a set time frame or journal every bite. Instead, focus on consuming three meals and one snack daily — all of which 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 co-founder 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 a Mediterranean diet meal 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

Not a counter? No big deal (after all, following a super restrictive diet isn't necessarily a good idea). When it comes to this eating plan, you shouldn'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 — 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 such as garlic, rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano can totally transform a dish and your overall feelings about following a Mediterranean diet meal plan. (Think: the better it tastes, the more you're going to want to stick with it, especially if you're following the Mediterranean diet for weight loss because, let's be honest, reaching your goals can sometimes be tough.)

"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 Meal Plan

While following the Mediterranean diet for weight loss can be a smart way to reach your goals, keeping up with the eating plan can also help 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 a Mediterranean diet meal plan 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.

Still not sold on 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 will leave you more energetic and a lot less hungry at 11 a.m., promises Dr. Stampfer. (Related: The Best Protein-Eating Strategy for Weight Loss)

2. A strong, healthy heart. Eating a Mediterranean diet menu 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. (Related: The Definitive *Truth* About Red Wine Health Benefits)

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 ultimately developing type 2 diabetes.

4. Better eyesight. The diet could help stave off or prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss after age 60. The condition — which affects more than 11 million Americans, according to the BrightFocus Foundation, which supports research on macular degeneration — 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, according to a 2008 study. What's more, the lutein in green leafy vegetables cuts your chance of cataracts and boosts retinal health, says Dr. Willett. (BTW, you can also boost your intake of lutein by eating butternut squash and peaches.)

5. Reduced Alzheimer's risk. Following a Mediterranean diet meal plan may help cut your chance of Alzheimer's disease by 40 percent, according to 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. (Related: The Amazing Ways Exercise Boosts Your Brain Power)

6. Longer life. A meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal found the Mediterranean 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 while its antioxidant properties might help treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease).

7-Day Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan

By now you (hopefully!) have a good idea of what constitutes the eating style and the benefits of keeping up with a Mediterranean diet menu. Up next? How to follow the Mediterranean diet meal plan — which is fairly easy since the eating plan doesn’t have many restrictions (other than avoiding processed foods) and doesn't require a special cookbook.

Still, a little guidance never hurts. Ahead, a full week's worth of simple meal and snack ideas from dietitians and recipe archives to build this complete seven-day Mediterranean diet plan (which, BTW, is also ideal if you're following the Mediterranean diet for weight loss).

50 Mediterranean Diet Recipes & Meal Ideas

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 (or, TBH, any of these best protein powders for women)
  • 1 cup warm no-sugar-added marinara + 1 poached egg + 2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese + 1/2 whole-wheat pita
  • 2 slices Ezekiel bread (Buy It, $5, target.com) + 1/4 avocado, sliced + 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Mediterranean Diet Lunches

Mediterranean Diet Dinners

Mediterranean Diet Snacks