How to Start Up the Mediterranean Diet — Meal by Meal
The Mediterranean diet has been around since the 1950s when it was noted that heart disease was not as common in Mediterranean countries as it was in the United States. Since then, it has been considered one of the healthiest diets in the world. The diet cuts processed foods and red meats and focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, healthy whole grains and, of course, extra-virgin olive oil.
But if you’ve ever tried to kickstart a healthier diet before, chances are you are well-acquainted with the feeling of not knowing where to begin. That’s why we spoke with Kaylee Jacks, a sports nutritionist at Texas Health Sports Medicine, for some guidance in the form of what a day’s worth of meals on the plan would look like.
For many, you may already be eating a Mediterranean diet breakfast without even realizing it. If you’re a fan of a nice warm bowl of oatmeal in the morning or a cool refreshing cup of yogurt, you’re not far off.
If you’re an oatmeal lover, aim for ancient grain oatmeal blends, or at the very least steel-cut oats, which provide a more rounded-out nutritional profile than your standard rolled oats then top it with yogurt, fruit and honey to add some creaminess and sweetness. Jacks notes you can even add a dollop of peanut butter for some healthy fats.
If you tend to grab a quick cup of yogurt out of the fridge on your way out the door, transition from plain yogurt to Greek yogurt, which has double the protein and half the sugar as regular yogurt. Similar to the oatmeal, top off your yogurt with fresh fruit, berries and even a sprinkle of nuts for that satisfying crunch.
If you’re not a fan of oatmeal or yogurt, and would still like to incorporate some eggs into your breakfast, Jacks suggests trying a simple yet satisfying avocado toast rich in heart-healthy fats.
“Avocado toast is the breakfast we never knew we needed,” says Jacks. “But avocado toast doesn’t have to be a morning-only meal. It can also be a filling lunch or fuel you up before a workout.”
Servings: 1 (2 slices per serving)
- 2 slices whole-grain bread
- 1/2 avocado
- 1/4 lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 2 eggs
- 1Toast the bread.
- Peel and pit avocado and place into a mixing bowl.
- Cut into quarters and juice a quarter into the bowl with the avocado.
- Add the remaining ingredients, minus the chia seeds and eggs, into the bowl with the avocado and lemon juice and mash the avocado to mix in the ingredients.
- When the contents are combined and mashed, spread evenly onto the 2 individual slices of whole-grain toast. Sprinkle the chia seeds evenly across both slices.
- Top each slice with 1 egg cooked your way.
With many people still working from home these days, sticking to a Mediterranean diet lunch feels less restrictive than in the past with the tempting lure of heading out of the office with coworkers for a bite to eat. Another perk is unlike that midday slump you may have been used to feeling during the day, eating a grain- or legume-based lunch, for example, can help raise blood sugar slowly, giving your brain sustained energy to finish out the workday strong.
Jacks notes that a plant-based protein bowl is an easy way to accomplish those goals so you can continue to accomplish your work goals, such as this one by Jessica in the Kitchen.
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 1/4 cup chopped cucumbers
- 1/4 cup chopped olives
- 1/4 cup feta cheese
- 1/4 cup tomatoes, diced
- 2 tablespoons red onion
- 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons hummus
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil + salt + black pepper
- Lime wedges to serve
Split the ingredients in half and add to each quinoa bowl as desired. Spoon hummus on top and mix all the ingredients together if desired. Drizzle olive oil, and grind salt and black pepper over each quinoa bowl. Serve with a lime wedge to squeeze over olives, cheese, tomatoes and red onions.
Bet when you started this article, you didn’t think snacks were “allowed.” While snacks oftentimes are synonymous with not-so-healthy “treats,” Jacks notes snacks can be a healthy part of your diet, and nuts are a great crunchy alternative to crispy fried snacks.
Studies have shown that many of us don’t eat enough nuts, a great source of heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Packed with protein, nuts are a super choice for a snack, as long as you watch your portions since they can be calorie-dense, and if you opt for salted options, sodium-dense.
You can make your own mix or look for pre-made mixes at the grocery store, just stay alert to any additional fillers that may not be so healthy, such as milk chocolate candy pieces, candied dried fruit, or processed breads such as pretzel sticks or bread chips.
Not nuts about nuts? Jacks adds that carrot sticks with a serving of hummus, or a small cup of Greek yogurt and fresh berries are great snacks as well.
As we discussed earlier, while not completely banished from the diet, red and processed meats are used very sparingly in the Mediterranean diet, instead focusing on fish and other seafood in at least two meals a week. Unlike many other proteins, fish and seafood contain heart and brain-healthy fats and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Jacks says a fairly simple and quick dinner to get on the table may consist of steamed or baked salmon or tuna with a side of quinoa (or another whole grain) and steamed vegetables lightly tossed in olive oil and dressed with lemon. If you’re not a fan of seafood, the fish can be swapped out with a lean cut of chicken.
Yes, you read that right, you can have your cake and eat it too on the Mediterranean diet — olive oil cake, that is. If you grimaced at the thought of an olive oil-rich cake, rest assured it can still taste as good traditional decadent cakes. This olive oil walnut spice cake, developed by cardiologist Steven Gundry, M.D., is free of refined flour, sugar, and artificial ingredients. And with olive oil, coconut milk, and walnuts, this cake has no shortage of healthy fats.
Our friends Greek yogurt, fresh berries and honey are making another appearance in this article as a light yet sweet end-of-the-day treat.
For those who don’t really have too much of a sweet tooth but still would like to enjoy a nice treat, a bit of dark chocolate, a bowl of fruit, or even a small glass of wine are healthy options as well.
If you’re a fan of cookies, these five-ingredient oatmeal cookies are as delicious as they are easy to make and you won’t feel like you’re missing out on more “sinful” treats.
Servings: 1 cookie (makes 8 cookies)
- 1/2 medium banana
- 1/4 cup pumpkin purée
- 1 Tbsp. almond butter
- 1/2 cup gluten-free oats
- 2 Tbsp. dark chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat and set aside.
- Add banana to a medium bowl, mashing against sides of bowl until small chunks remain. Stir in pumpkin purée and almond butter, vigorously mixing to evenly distribute.
- Fold in oats and chocolate chips.
- Drop mixture by the tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheet, using your finger to press down the center of each one.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool on tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a baking rack to cool completely.
Eating healthier doesn’t have to be restrictive or a numbers game. It doesn’t have to be labor-intensive either. If cooking on the weekend and freezing for the week ahead is your thing, many Mediterranean foods can be prepped or frozen with no issues. Whole grains, such as quinoa, can be made in bulk and frozen in individual servings for meals throughout the week.
But there are a few things to be mindful of when following the Mediterranean diet.
“While unsaturated fat, the healthy fat emphasized in the Mediterranean diet, is nutrient-dense, it is also calorie-dense,” Jacks cautions. “It is important to eat these foods in moderation to avoid unwanted weight gain. Also, the Mediterranean diet puts less emphasis on animal proteins which are a major source of iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Those following this diet should look for other foods fortified or enriched with these nutrients to make sure they do not become deficient.”
The simplest way to start a Mediterranean style of eating is to replace one meal a day with a plant- or grain-based choice, so if you’re not fully ready to transition over, subbing out just one of your typical meals with any one of these recipes above is a step in the right direction!