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Core Foods of the Mediterranean Diet

It’s not new news that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest diets in the world. It’s high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains while minimizing the intake of processed food and red meats. Research has shown that incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your everyday life can help lower inflammation, oxidative stress, and prevent chronic diseases.

Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is the main source of fat in the Mediterranean Diet. It has a ton of phenols (antioxidants) that help your body fight oxidative stress and chronic diseases. It’s also incredibly versatile – you can use it to cook and bake, drizzle it into your salad, use it as a bread dip, and so much more!

Whole grains

Whole grains are a good source of “dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium)” (10). It’s good for weight management, heart health, and digestive health. If you’re worried about the taste, try adding them slowly into your diet. Some ideas include swapping white rice for brown rice, adding farro to your salads, or using quinoa as a base for burrito bowls. A few other whole grains include oats, buckwheat, and barely.

Vegetables (especially dark leafy greens)

Vegetables are “important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C” (4). Eating more vegetables can help protect the body against certain cancers. An easy way to incorporate vegetables into your diet is by baking and sauteeing. Pick out a vegetable that interests you next time you’re at the farmers market or grocery store!

Fruits

Fruits are “sources of many essential nutrients that are under consumed, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate (folic acid)” (3). Fruits are low in calories and high in fiber. Plus, they can be added to almost anything. They also have natural sugars that can give you an energy boost throughout the day. Add fruits to your oatmeal, smoothies, salads, and yogurts!

Legumes

Legumes are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber, “with other nutrients, such as folate, calcium, potassium, zinc, B vitamins, and antioxidants” (5). With so many kinds of legumes in the market, there’s bound to be one that you like. Incorporate legumes into your diet by adding it to soups, stews, and salads.

Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices “possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumorigenic, anticarcinogenic, and glucose- and cholesterol-lowering activities as well as properties that affect cognition and mood” (6). With high amounts of antioxidants, herbs and spices can enhance the smell, flavor, and health benefits of your dishes.

Nuts

Nuts contain a mixture “of fats, including monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and omega-3 fatty acids, along with saturated fat” (1). You can try snacking on them throughout the day or throwing them into your salad for some added crunch. Another versatile way to have nuts is with nut butter, which you can quickly add to your smoothie or spread on toast.

Fish / Seafood

Fish is a low-fat protein filled with “omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as D and B2 (riboflavin). Fish is rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium” (7). Some of the best sources of fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals that promote health can be found in seafood (8). They’re very good for the brain and the heart. They’re also very versatile proteins that can be added to almost anything, including rice, salads, tacos, pasta, and sandwiches.

Low-fat dairy

Low-fat dairy contains fewer calories and saturated fats while still being high in calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein. The vitamin, mineral, and “protein compounds called peptides, are believed to play a role in protecting the heart. Probiotics in .. yogurt, have also been shown to improve blood pressure, and have been associated with decreasing CVD risk” (9). Low-fat dairy is everywhere and can be incorporated into your daily coffee, pizza, salads, fruits, and dessert.fat

Wine (in moderation and for those over 21 years old)

One glass of wine a day with your meal plays a role in living a long and healthy life. Wine contains many polyphenolic “substances which may be beneficial for health and in particular flavonols (such as myricetin and quercetin), catechin and epicatechin, proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, various phenolic acids and the stilbene resveratrol” (2).

Now that you know what the Mediterranean diet consists of and their benefits, try it out for yourself! Check out our blog post on how to incorporate it in your diet.

Written by Mandy Zhen
Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio.