Mediterranean Diet 101, Nutrition Tips

How to Start a Mediterranean Diet in 5 Steps

September 6, 2017

How to follow the Mediterranean DietThe Mediterranean diet has been studied for over 60-70 years now. Starting with the Seven Countries study and continuing from there with several large observational studies, research repeatedly has shown that compliance to the Mediterranean diet appears to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions

The diet was initially based on the traditional diet of Greece (particularly Crete) and Southern Italy circa 1960’s. While it can never be exactly replicated, you can follow a Mediterranean diet wherever you are.

Not Sure Where to Start?

So how do you follow this diet? Drizzle olive oil on your bread? Add feta cheese and parmesan to your recipes? Drink wine every night? While these habits may sound Mediterranean, in terms of authentic Mediterranean diet and health benefits, what counts is a pattern of eating and not necessarily specific foods. For starters, here are 5 changes you can make to your diet right now and you can start with one of these and try it out for a week or so and then add the next. Than you can checkout my 5 Day  Mediterranean Diet Menu Plan as well as the Mediterranean Diet Shopping List.

How to Start Following a Mediterranean Diet

 

1. Switch to olive oil and do not skimp on it.

olive oil cooking
Trying to follow a Mediterranean diet using very little olive oil defeats the purpose. Olive oil is the basis of the diet and many of the benefits appear to come from the good monounsaturated fats but also the polyphenols in the olive oil. However to get the benefits, you must replace other fats with olive oil, making it your type of fat in the diet. In addition olive oil is what helps with such a high consumption of vegetables. Greeks consume many vegetables and one of reasons for this is because they cook them with olive oil which makes it easier to eat large amounts.

2. Eat vegetables as a main course.

Mediterranean Diet Food List
The high consumption of vegetables is a main characteristic of the Mediterranean diet. Greeks consume almost a pound of vegetables a day. In order for this to be accomplished vegetables such as green beans, peas, eggplant, artichoke, and okra are cooked in olive oil, tomato and herbs and accompanied with bread and feta cheese. A dish of these vegetables can provide 3 servings of vegetables.

3. Learn to cook a few basic Mediterranean meals.

spanakorizo Greek spinach and rice
The Mediterranean diet is about real food. That does not mean one has to cook from scratch everyday but learning 2-3 basic dishes will greatly improve your diet. Here are my 3 suggestions:

Spanakorizo (Spinach and Rice)

Greek Style Green Beans 

Greek Lentil Stew

4. Go vegan one or two days a week.

Black-eyed-peas-Mediterranean-honey-vinaigrette When we look at the traditional Greek diet, the Greeks abstained from animal products about 200 days a year for religious reasons. This most likely played an important role in the health benefits that were seen in that population. Check out the guidelines here.

5. Stop adding meat to everything.


I often see in recommendations for healthy eating plenty of vegetable dishes but also quite a bit of meat. We do not need that much meat (even if it is lean), and studies have shown that reducing meat is correlated with better health. Try the following guidelines: red meat once a week, chicken once a week and fish once a week.

SAVE FOR LATER AND PIN IT!

How to start the Mediterranean diet

 

More Resources to Help You Start the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan

The Complete Mediterranean Diet Food And Shopping List

Photo by Elena Paravantes © All Rights Reserved

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13 Comments

  • Reply Priscilla B. September 7, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Hello.
    I’ve just discovered your site and have been reading for the past few hours. Good stuff!

    I’ve a question…
    Do you think dietary preferences are inherited?

    I absolutely did not grow up eating any thing Greek or Mediterranean. My mother is the daughter of a butcher (gag) and was forced to eat the most disgusting meat and body parts, along with a heavy European (German and Czech) influence, coupled with American things like meatloaf.

    Being on my own for many years now, I’ve discovered Mediterranean food and am obsessed with it. I tell my husband, who eats much like what I grew up with, that “I have to feed my Greek”, and he understands.

    I literally mean OBSESSED. I can’t stop shoving Greek food into my face, like it’s a missing link to something. My mother turns her nose up at everything, which is fine. More for me. 🙂

    Inherited or no? I ask the question because my sister took a DNA test and found out we’re a small-ish % Greek and Spanish. HUGE surprise!

    I suspect these are from my father, who’s up for eating anything. And I’ve got his nose.

    Ever thanks!

  • Reply Elena September 12, 2017 at 5:33 am

    Thank you Priscilla! I’m not sure about inheriting dietary preferences, we know that many food preferences are learned. but it looks like you may have something from your father.

  • Reply plant based protein powder September 28, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    There’s more to Mediterranean diet than just insalatas and souvlakis. Since I got gluten allergy, chickpeas are one of my go to carbs.

  • Reply Maria December 15, 2017 at 11:36 pm

    Chick peas aren’t just a carb; they are also very rich in protein. Not Greek, but I’m eating some hummus tahineh I made yesterday. Try them with rice crackers if you have a gluten allergy. Good hummus should be fairly plain.

    Chick pea flour also makes great crêpes and flatbreads. The ones I’m familiar with are from the western Mediterranean (southeastern France and northwestern Italy, between Nice and Genoa); I don’t know if anything similar is eaten in Greece or anywhere in the former Ottoman Empire.

  • Reply Bob Bob February 18, 2018 at 4:40 am

    Fish is actually a huge part of the Mediterranean Diet, as is chicken, turkey, and lamb. Red meats are what is bad and not really a huge part of the diet. Fish is a huge part of the diet, as I discovered from the many websites I have gone on to study and learn about this diet, it helps get the omega-3 fatty acids and proteins.

  • Reply Anastasia March 21, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Kalispera Elena,

    I’m a Greek Canadian who grew up eating mostly traditional Greek island Fare. But fairly recently (actually happened a few years after switching to a vegan diet) I was diagnosed with pernicious anemia with reduced gut intrinsic factor and my dr noticed I have an incredibly hard time getting plant proteins (I have a hard time with absorbing all protein but animal protein absorbs much better, missing a few meat meals can leave me anemic very quickly) my doctor has recommended eating red meat at least every other day and at the least chicken ( or fishX2 but I’m not so much a fan i take a fish oil supplement instead) once a day what can I better do to incorporate my traditional diet into these guidelines?

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN March 21, 2019 at 7:33 pm

      Hi Anastasia, Treatment of pernicious anemia varies, if it is due to lack of intrinsic factor than you would need supplementation, not just diet changes. If it is due to your diet, than adding these foods you mention can help. If that is the case I would incorporate small amounts of meat, chicken, fish and eggs as a supplement to mainly vegetable based meals. However, as it is not clear whether it is due to diet or intrinsic factor, I would recommend you get that clarified and also visit a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who can guide you.

  • Reply Chelsea February 15, 2020 at 2:04 am

    When you say chicken fish or red meat once a week, does that mean for one meal. Example the day you have chicken, do you have it for lunch and dinner or only dinner? Or maybe the amount is more important, say 8oz of meat that could be split into two 4oz portions? Thanks!

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN February 15, 2020 at 6:28 am

      Hi Chelsea, It means one meal. Yes you could divide the meat into smaller portions.

  • Reply Valerie Doerfler July 6, 2020 at 11:41 pm

    I have a few questions as my husband and I are just now reading and looking into this way of eating. He is Type 2 diabetic and was recommended to us. However, I am wondering if we can add a few things along the way without really messing up. I did read where someone asked you about eating avocado and you said that it was not on the diet just because it is not something grown in that area but could include it. Neither of us have any ties to Greek food and I grew up mostly eating mixtures of all kinds, Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc. I am a vegetarian so I will love the majority of this food. But I also love black beans and other Mexican faire. Is it possible to include them in some dishes? We eat a lot of blueberries and strawberries and again not sure if they are left off due to what is grown in that area? I have read where you have talked about how Americans have westernized this diet and I am not sure if what I am asking is doing that or not? I do love some foods that are not listed and that is why I am asking, although the majority of them I eat in some capacity. I love your recipes and am excited to start this plan, I am a little concerned about the cooking time once school starts again (I am a teacher) though. We plan on starting this way of eating in about a week so I have time to try cooking meals and after we read and study some.

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN July 7, 2020 at 6:23 am

      Hi Valerie, Thank you for your message. I would say, that whatever fruit and vegetables are in season in your area are fine. The fats you add and the method of cooking is what makes a difference. In regards to Mexican food, all beans are recommended. If you want a specific Mexican dish, go ahead and have it, as I’ve mentioned before I recommend the the 80/20 rule. In other words eat Mediterranean style 80% of the time. Regarding time spent cooking, I cook a lot of the vegetable casseroles during the week, they do not require much prep work and they taste better the next day, so I make them the day before.

      • Reply Valerie Doerfler July 17, 2020 at 10:24 pm

        Thank you for your suggestions. Great about the Mexican food too. Thank you as that makes it much easier knowing I am not limited in only what is on the list. Valerie Doerfler

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