What Is The Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a diet based on the foods eaten by people living in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean sea. It was introduced in the 1960s and gained popularity in the 1990s. However, the eating habits it was inspired by have dated back to as far as the Middle Ages.

The main countries that are renowned for following a Mediterranean diet include Italy, France, Greece, and Spain, and also parts of the Middle East.

What are the main ingredients in the Mediterranean Diet?

The specific ingredients might vary slightly from country to country, but the traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by primarily plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Olive oil and red wine figure prominently. However, there is very little meat and dairy products.

Not surprisingly, the Mediterranean diet follows a similar dietary structure to science-backed eating advice, and does NOT include foods that are high in sugar, salt, and fat.

The Mediterranean diet has been proven to improve health, especially in terms of warding off cardiovascular diseases and preventing obesity-related health problems.

Read below to find out more about the health benefits of adopting a Mediterranean diet, and the key ingredients that belong to it.

The Health Benefits Of A Mediterranean Diet

Changing your diet can be difficult and requires a lot of time, effort, and dedication. It is definitely worth adopting some of the eating habits that encompass a Mediterranean diet, though, as the health benefits are numerous and multifaceted. Some of the health benefits you can expect if you decide to eat a Meditteranean diet include:

  • Protects against obesity-related illness – because the Mediterranean diet is rich in healthy, whole foods and low in fats and sugars, it has been linked to a reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese, increased weight loss for those who are overweight/obese, and therefore reduces the risk of weight-related diseases.
  • Prevents heart disease and strokes – the Mediterranean diet does not contain processed foods and limits red meat, which can reduce your risk of heart problems and stroke.
  • Reduces the risk of cancer – the foods that are eaten under the Mediterranean diet produce protective effects against inflammation and DNA damage, which can reduce the risk of cancer.
  • Protects against type 2 diabetes – without those large fluctuations in blood sugar brought on by an unhealthy Western diet, and because the Mediterranean diet incorporates lots of fiber, you can maintain a healthy weight and reduce the potential to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease – lots of antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet prevent oxidative processes in cells which greatly reduces the risk of these two diseases.
  • Reduces muscle weakness in the elderly – consuming Mediterranean foods reduces the risk of developing muscle weakness.
  • Greater energy levels – without spikes in blood sugar and by fuelling your body correctly, you will find an increase in your daily energy levels.
  • Improved mental health – not only does your physical health benefit from a Mediterranean diet, it is well known that eating healthily can do wonders for your mental health.
  • Increased life expectancy – due to a reduced risk of many physical and mental illnesses, the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of death at any age by 20%.

Now you’ve read up on the fantastic health benefits that come from adopting a Mediterranean diet, you probably want to switch to one as soon as you can!

It can be difficult to know where to start when following a new diet, so below we’ve put together some of the Key Ingredients of the Mediterranean diet, which should help you understand what sorts of things you need to incorporate into your daily eating habits.

There is an abundance of delicious Mediterranean recipes on the internet or in specialized cookbooks for you to choose from, but let’s start with the major components and get you on your way to a happy and healthier you.

Key Ingredients Of The Mediterranean Diet


Such as tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, kale.


Such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears.

Nuts And Seeds

Such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds.


Such as beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas.

Whole Grains

Such as oats, rice, pasta, bread.

Fish and seafood

Such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines.



Such as milk, cheese, yogurt.

Healthy Fats

Such as olive oil, avocado.

Herbs And Spices

Such as garlic, basil, sage, rosemary.

Clearly, the Mediterranean diet became popularized because of its health benefits, but it is much more than a list of foods from a nutrition pyramid. The Mediterranean diet is also a homage to the history and culture of Mediterranean countries.

Many of the people living in these countries developed diets based on locally sourced ingredients; for example, it is well known that olive oil is a staple Mediterranean food, and this is because olive trees have always been in large supply throughout Mediterranean regions.

Below are some examples of traditional Mediterranean ingredients which fall under the above categories.

Olive Oil – Italy, Greece, and Spain are the three main producers of olive oil in the world. It’s famous for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

Olives – Olives are a popular Mediterranean food and a rich source of antioxidants. They can be eaten by themselves or can complement a Mediterranean recipe.

Wheat – The top Mediterranean grain, wheat is very popular in Italy. Bulgur can be made from whole wheat berries that have been steamed, dried, and cracked. Many Mediterranean recipes can be made with bulgur. Bread is normally made using unrefined wheat and barley flour. Wheat is also used to make couscous and Italian pasta with a low glycemic index.


Wine contains antioxidants and was a common beverage in the traditional Mediterranean diet, especially red wine, however only in moderation.

Wild Greens

Wild greens are rich in plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. They are added to a huge variety of traditional Mediterranean recipes.


Capers are fermented in sea salt. They’re low in calories and rich in antioxidants, but high in sodium. You can rinse capers with water to remove some of the sodium.


Chickpeas are a great source of fiber, protein, iron, and magnesium. They’re the main ingredient in hummus and are good as a snack or as part of the main meal.


Because they are acidic, lemons lower the glycemic response of the body by slowing down the emptying of the stomach. That’s why adding lemons or lemon juice to a meal can lower its entire glycemic load.


Garlic is an essential ingredient in all Mediterranean cuisines. Garlic is extremely healthy and has anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects.


High in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, herbs are very important in the Mediterranean diet. Adding fresh herbs to meals increases both flavor and the antioxidant capacity of your meal.

Feta And Yogurt

Feta and Yogurt are fermented, making them rich in probiotics. They also provide extra protein to the largely plant-based Mediterranean diet.

We hope that this guide has helped you to become familiar with the Mediterranean diet and its benefits. You should now know the major ingredients that form part of the diet and be able to create your own Mediterranean recipes.

Next time you’re at the store, be sure to pick up a few of these ingredients so that you’re ready to cook up a storm. After all, not only is Mediterranean cuisine absolutely packed with health benefits, it’s also delicious!

Rick Zullo

Former doctor, current science teacher, and life-long food lover, Rick's passion for Mediterranean cuisine was ignited while living as an expat in Rome, Italy. 


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