The Mediterranean Diet: Healthy Basics

Research studies consistently confirm the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. We’ve got guidelines to help you incorporate the beneficial foods of this diet into your eating habits.

Mediterranean diet

Hype about new amazing superfoods and exotic diets abounds, but health claims aren’t credible unless research consistently supports them. Over time, the benefits of the Mediterranean diet—based on traditional eating habits in Greece and southern Italy—have been shown in clinical trials to reduce heart attacks, strokes, and bad cholesterol. If you want to eat the Mediterranean way, we tell you which foods to choose, and how often to eat them.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil. A healthful diet should be interesting and varied, and this diet gives you lots of choices. Some foods should be eaten every day; others are recommended several times a week. We outline this diet’s foods and serving guidelines below.

Eat these Mediterranean diet foods daily

To reap the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, include the following foods on your plate every day:

  • Vegetables. Have three servings (a half cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of raw vegetables) every day. You have a rainbow of choices. The deepest colors tend to be the healthiest. Try tomatoes, beets, broccoli, and leafy greens like spinach, kale, and arugula.
  • Fruits. Have three servings per day, and consider eating one serving of fruit as your dessert course. One serving is a half to a full cup of fruit. Berries, apples, peaches, and cantaloupe are some delicious options.
  • Olive oil. One tablespoon per day is recommended. More is acceptable on occasion, but avoid having more than four tablespoons in a day.
  • Starches. Help yourself to between three and six servings of starches like sweet potatoes, quinoa, whole grains, and brown rice. One serving is a slice of bread or half a cup of cooked starch. Try dipping bread in olive oil instead of using butter.
  • Wine. If you enjoy wine with dinner, sip one glass per day—with no beer or hard liquor substitutions. However, if you don’t drink, there is no reason to start drinking for health reasons.

Add these foods every week

In addition to daily servings of some foods, there are other foods that should be eaten several times a week, including the following:

  • Legumes. Three servings per week of peas, peanuts, or some variety of beans.
  • Fish. Three servings per week of salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, mackerel, or other fish with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Nuts. Three quarter-cup servings per week. Two tablespoons of a nut butter also count as a serving. Raw or dry-roasted walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts are good choices.
  • White meat. Three three-ounce servings of chicken or turkey per week.
  • Dairy/eggs. Have no more than three servings a week. As a bonus, there is no limit on the number of egg whites you can eat.
  • Red meat. Like wine, red meat is not a requirement. If you do want to include red meat in your diet, limit yourself to no more than one three-ounce serving per week.
  • Dessert. Sweets are limited to one three-ounce serving per week. One trick you can use to keep from feeling deprived is to have one of your daily servings of fruit as a dessert.

Following these Mediterranean diet guidelines can help you develop and maintain good eating habits that will provide the nutrients your body needs and long-term benefits for your health. Please keep in mind that these are general nutrition guidelines. Patients recovering from surgery or with other medical conditions may have special nutritional needs, and should always follow their doctor’s diet recommendations and consult with their doctor before making any dietary changes.

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