Foods Included in Traditional Mediterranean Meals

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Traditional Mediterranean meals include:

  1. Grains, vegetables, and fruits:Eat these at most meals, since they provide vitamins, minerals, energy, antioxidants, and fiber, and promote good health and weight control.
    • Grains: Choose whole, minimally-processed grains, such as wheat, oats,rice,barley,and corn, since refining and processing often remove many nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
    • Vegetables: An important staple throughout the Mediterranean. Usually eaten cooked or drizzled with olive oil, and sometimes raw.
    • Fruits: Choose whole fresh fruit in season. Note that no-sugar-added fruit juices provide less nutrients and often more calories per serving than whole fresh fruit. Avoid “fruit drinks.”
  2. Olives and olive oil: Olives are universally eaten whole, and widely used for cooking and flavoring in the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Olive oil is the principal source of dietary fat used for cooking, baking, and for dressing salads and vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil is highest in health-promoting fats, phytonutrients and other important micronutrients.
  3. Nuts, beans, legumes, and seeds: Good sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber, and add flavor and texture to Mediterranean dishes.
  4. Herbs and spices: Provide flavors and aromas to foods, reducing the need to add salt or fat when cooking.  These provide several health-promoting antioxidants, are used frequently in Mediterranean foods, and contribute to the national identities of the various Mediterranean cuisines.
  5. Cheese and yogurt: Eaten regularly in the traditional Mediterranean diet, but in low to moderate amounts.  Provide calcium which is important for bone and heart health. Choose lowfat and nonfat dairy products.
  6. Fish and shellfish: Important sources of healthy protein. Fish such as tuna, herring, sardines, wild Alaskan salmon and bream are rich in essential heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish and crustaceans including mussels, clams and shrimp have similar benefits. Fish and shellfish are not typically battered and fried in Mediterranean countries.
  7. Eggs: A good source of high-quality protein, and especially beneficial for people who do not eat meat. Eggs are regularly used in baking in Mediterranean countries.
  8. Meats: Eaten in small portions by Mediterranean peoples, who prefer lean cuts. Poultry is a good source of lean protein without the high levels of saturated fat found in some cuts of red meat. With ground meats, 90 percent lean/10 percent fat is a good choice.
  9. Sweets: Consumed in small portions in the Mediterranean. Fruits are ever-present on Mediterranean tables, and are a normal way to end a meal. Gelato and sorbet are consumed a few times a week, in small portions.
  10. Wine: Consumed regularly but moderately. “Moderately” means up to one five-ounce glass of wine per day for women and up to two five-ounce glasses for men. Only drink wine if you are medically able to do so and have your doctor’s approval.
  11. Water: Consumed regularly
  12. Portion size: Because foods in the bottom section of the pyramid may be eaten in larger amounts and more frequently, portion sizes and frequency of consumption decline in the pyramid’s upper sections.
  13. Moderation is a wise approach: A balanced and healthy diet accommodates most foods and drinks, so long as moderation and wise choices are the key characteristics. For example, enjoying a small piece of birthday cake, savoring a few slices of grilled steak, or relaxing with family and friends with a glass or two of wine or beer are important aspects of being human. As always, moderation is the wise watchword.
  14. Healthy lifestyle habits: Daily physical activity is important for overall good health. This includes strenuous exercise like running and aerobics, as well as more leisurely activities such as walking and housework or yard-work, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  15. Meals in the company of others: The Mediterranean Diet is grounded on the principles of enjoyment and pleasure. Foods, drinks and meals are best eaten with others, when possible, and savored.
Foods and Flavors of the Mediterranean Diet
Note that weight control is very important for good health. Establish your healthy weight range with your doctor or from reputable web sites, and let this healthy weight range be your guide. If you are above this range, cut back on the food and drink you consume, add more exercise, or both. For most people, counting calories obsessively not only detracts from enjoying foods, drinks, and meals, but also doesn’t work very well in the long term. These recommendations and the updated Mediterranean Diet Pyramid are reliable for most adults. However, children and pregnant women and others with special dietary needs may require dietary supplementation. These needs can be accommodated within the Mediterranean Diet in most circumstances.

  1. “Some Common and Uncommon Foods and Flavors of the Mediterranean Diet.” (Source:
  2. “What is the Mediterranean Diet?” Information regarding the Mediterranean Pyramid and Traditional Mediterranean Diet. (Source:

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