The Beginner’s Guide to the Mediterranean Diet
Welcome to the Mediterranean Diet for beginners. I’ve listed the health benefits and answered the most frequently asked questions about the diet. Including food allowances, dietary limitations, shopping requirements, and tips on how to successfully transform your eating lifestyle.
Additionally, I’ve included several mouthwatering Mediterranean Diet Recipes. Bon Appetit!
Quick Side Story– last year my family and I had an unusual scare when I suffered a stroke. Although my stroke was not cholesterol related, poor diet was a significant factor leading up to the incident.
Having a stroke before the age of forty is an eye-opening experience that has helped me on the path to making healthier, positive life changes. And I hope you’re inspired to make positive life changes too!
This post contains affiliate links.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Essentially, the Mediterranean Diet is based on the eating habits of the people of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea during the 1950s and 1960s. It’s largely acknowledged as one of the healthiest diets in the world.
Honestly, it’s not a diet in as restrictive of a sense as we tend to associate with the word– diet. Think of it instead as a lifestyle of healthier eating.
Unlike traditional diets, the Mediterranean Diet doesn’t involve removing entire food groups, counting calories, or obsessing over points. Making it a more balanced and obtainable lifestyle choice.
Instead, it focuses on eating a diet rich in plant-based and whole foods. Eggs, fish, and poultry are permitted in managed proportions. While foods such as red meat, pork, and refined sugars are consumed sparingly, if at all.
What are the Health Benefits?
Several health benefits have been accredited to eating a Mediterranean Diet lifestyle including:
- Reduces Cardiovascular Disease
- Reduces Risk of Stroke
- Protects Against Type 2 Diabetes
- Prevents Cognitive Decline including Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
- Increased Agility and Mobility
- Improves Your Gut Health
- Reduces the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease
- Helps Fight Depression and Anxiety
- Impacts Bone and Muscle Mass in Post-Menopausal Women
- Reduces Risk of Cancer
- Weight Loss
- Clearer and Healthier Skin
How to Get Started with the Mediterranean Diet?
To get started with the Mediterranean Diet for beginners you need motivation, determination, and accountability. But that’s true with starting anything new– so don’t get discouraged already!
It’s important that you acknowledge that you’re making a lifestyle change and that you’re already a complete badass for being willing to go for it. You got this. And remember, nobody is perfect.
Minimizing your intake of processed foods, sugar, and red meat naturally evolve into behavior that is second nature once you’ve committed to the diet.
But hey, if you waste an entire day binge-watching the Handmaid’s Tale while weeping into a carton of ice cream that you’ve nearly devoured in one sitting, don’t fret– I’ve been there. At least once a month I’m indulging in a bad decision.
The key is committing to recommitting despite the mishaps you may experience along the way. Remember– don’t quit. Choose instead to refocus and push past the obstacles. You’re the only one standing in your way.
I’ve answered some of the most common questions about the Mediterranean Diet for you below:
What Foods Can You Eat?
The best part about the Mediterranean Diet is that there are limited restrictions. Common sense moderation and mindful portioning will help guide you with this lifestyle.
What are the Guidelines?
- Eat an abundance of bright, colorful vegetables.
- Choose fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth’s cravings.
- Organic is best. Especially concerning produce on the dirty dozen list.
- Snack on nuts, legumes, and dried fruits.
- Use fresh herbs and spices to season in place of salt.
- Choose olive, safflower, and grapeseed oils.
- Eat mild to moderate amounts of eggs, fish, and poultry.
- Consume less red meat and pork.
- Red wine is heart-healthy in moderation.
Shopping for the Mediterranean Diet isn’t difficult because of its limited restrictions. Still, it’s important to be aware of what the moderations and limitations are before visiting the grocery store.
Don’t forget to eat before shopping! It will help you avoid making poor choices due to nagging hunger pains.
Eliminate that temptation by keeping a bag of almonds or walnuts in your purse at all times. I forgot to heed my own advice recently, and it may have resulted in me scarfing down a donut inside of the store. I have an occasional weakness for maple bars.
While it’s fine to indulge your cravings once in a while, if I’d had almonds in my purse I know I could’ve avoided that temptation.
What’s on the Shopping List for the Mediterranean Diet for Beginners?
A good rule of thumb when shopping for the Mediterranean Diet (or for healthy eating) is to peruse and choose fresh foods from the perimeter of the store and avoid the aisles packed with processed foods when possible.
Naturally, some frozen, canned, and assorted foods require you to journey down these aisles filled with brightly colored packages of temptation. It’s difficult to completely avoid. Be mindful and prepared with a grocery list.
Oils and Fats
Swap out saturated fats including margarine, shortening, butter, and coconut oil for healthier monounsaturated options. Typically, olive oil is associated with the Mediterranean Diet. However, oils including safflower, grapeseed, sesame, and canola are all recommended additions to your dinner plate. Remember– virgin olive oil is great for cooking, while extra-virgin olive oil is better tasting on salads and pasta.
The fresher, the better! Shop for fresh produce at local fruit stands and farmer markets. Ideally, with vegetables, the more color on the plate, the healthier (and more vibrant) it is. Eat as many veggies as your heart’s content. Big, leafy greens are your friend. Frozen and canned veggies are acceptable and often, more affordable alternatives. However, be mindful of the sodium content in canned vegetables.
Yes! Eating fruits is allowed on the Mediterranean Diet. Traditional fruits include cherries, dates, apples, grapes, figs, grapefruit, melons, olives, peaches, pears, strawberries, tomatoes, avocados, clementines, pomegranates, and tangerines. Be mindful that fruit is nature’s sugar and should still be consumed moderately.
Additionally, stick to only 100% fruit juices to avoid added sugar. And remember– you’re made up of water. Water is your friend. Choose it most of the time to be living your best life.
Introduce interesting grains like couscous, barley, and farro to your diet to break up the monotony of pasta. Additionally, if like me you’re seeking gluten-free options, try quinoa, brown rice, bulgar, and millet.
Beans, nuts, lentils, chickpeas, fish, and minimal amounts of poultry are all acceptable sources of protein. Choose fatty fishes such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, and swordfish for your daily dose of important Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Sardines and anchovies are flavorful additions to your basic salad.
There is some debate about dairy being a healthy part of any diet. However, the Mediterranean Diet allows for 1-2 servings per day. Many recipes include Greek yogurt and feta cheese.
What Foods Should You Avoid?
Come on now, you already know what’s not good for you! Don’t you? Stay away from refined sugars, alcohol, processed foods, fatty animal products, and overindulgence in anything other than your vegetables!
Can You Eat the Mediterranean Diet on a Budget?
Yes! The Mediterranean Diet drastically reduces your meat intake which is a large portion of a typical grocery expense. Shopping the best deals on produce and seafood is going to be your biggest challenge. However, I’ve included several budget-friendly tips that will help you successfully keep down your food costs.
Budget-Friendly Tips for the Mediterranean Diet
- Buy nuts, legumes, whole grains, and oats in bulk.
- Shop at fruit stands and farmer markets.
- Buy local produce in season.
- Stock freezer during deals on seafood and chicken.
- Follow a meal plan.
- Make Crockpot portions and freeze leftovers.
- Stop eating out.
- Use grocery apps such as Ibotta for discounts and rewards.
What are the Best Recipes for the Mediterranean Diet for Beginners?
And now we have arrived at my favorite part of the beginner’s guide to the Mediterranean diet– the food! Recently receiving an award for the best diet of the year 2019 guarantees an abundance of food bloggers sharing their spins on Mediterranean diet-friendly dishes. Here are a few of my favorites for beginners.
Mediterranean Diet Breakfast Recipes
Honestly, breakfast is not a meal I was raised up on and I am only now embracing its value. While these recipes are delicious, I typically eat a piece of fruit in the morning. I find bananas to be most palatable if you’re not a big breakfast eater but know that you need to fuel your tank in the morning.
- Mediterranean Breakfast Potato Hash with Poached Eggs
- Hummus and Veggie Breakfast Bowls
- Fig Ricotta Overnight Oats
- Caprese Avocado Toast
Mediterranean Diet Lunch Recipes
Lunch can be as simple as cut-up veggies and hummus. Salads and soups are my favorite easy fixes because their options are limitless.
- Mediterranean Salad and Chicken Skewers (Try it with Shrimp Skewers)
- Everyday Mediterranean Salad
- Outrageous Herbacious Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
- Avocado and Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad
- Avocado Caprese Wrap
- Moroccan Mediterranean Lentil Soup
- Mediterranean Dairy Free Zucchini Soup
Mediterranean Diet Dinner Recipes
Dinner is my favorite meal to cook. After years of working swing shift, my creative juices and energy begin flowing right around that five o’clock dinner rush time. Check out these simple, tasty dinners!
- Mujaddara (Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions)
- Mediterranean Grilled Balsamic Chicken with Olive Tapenade
- Linguine and Zoodles with Shrimp
- Easy Chicken Picatta (Try it with Cod or Tilapia)
- Saucy Greek Baked Shrimp
- Cod and Asparagus Bake
- Salmon with Spinach and White Beans
Mediterranean Diet Snack Recipes
A Mediterranean Diet for beginners has a multitude of healthy snack options including fruit, veggies, and nuts. Before beginning this diet, I honestly had never snacked on nuts before (maybe peanuts) and I must say that they’re both delicious and surprisingly filling. My new favorites are raw pecans, these almonds, and these walnuts (can also be found at Costco).
- Homemade Hummus (Perfect for Veggies and Whole Wheat Pita Bread)
- 15-Minute Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
- Crockpot Chunky Monkey Paleo Trail Mix (Replace Butter with Coconut Oil)
- Mediterranean Roasted Chickpeas
Best Tips for Success with the Mediterranean Diet for Beginners?
The best advice I can give you isn’t a testimony of my own words, However, they ring true and familiar. Have you heard this expression?
If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.William Edward Hickson
Of course, you have. I love this saying because it’s a timeless, simple truth. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in the past when making changes in my lifestyle has been abandoning an idea or passion because I wasn’t flawless with my execution or confident in my know-how. You’re going to make mistakes.
Document your failures and accomplishments with a journal. Learn from it and grow stronger with each day. Challenge yourself.
10 Tips for Success on the Mediterranean Diet
- Commit to meal prep. Invest in these handy eco-friendly meal prep containers.
- Keep snacks such as nuts, cut up veggies, and dried fruits handy.
- Make your own dressings and sauces.
- Grow an herb garden.
- Plant your own veggies.
- Build a plate of nutrition and nourishment.
- Have an accountability partner.
- Hang up encouraging words to keep you motivated.
- Keep a journal to record meals, moods, positives, and negatives.
- Exercise is relevant to success.
The Last Thing You Need to Know About the Mediterranean Diet?
It may not happen overnight and that is okay. For those of you (us) who are accustom to primarily eating heavily processed packaged dinners and fast food meals, this lifestyle change may feel drastic and overwhelming at first. That is completely natural and it will get better.
As with any lifestyle change, it may take some trial and error before finding your groove. This diet involves frequent trips to the grocery store and lots of cooking. I find meal prep to be one of my biggest tools for success. Start with a meal schedule like Eating Well’s 7-Day Meal Plan.
Please share your favorite Mediterranean Diet recipes with me in the comments below and bonus if they’re gluten-free! Also, did you find this information to be useful? Please share this post with a friend! Thanks. You’re awesome for that! 🙂