Published on March 24, 2021

A table of foods from the Mediterranean diet.

A Mediterranean diet is easy to adopt and maintain

The Mediterranean diet receives rave reviews for three reasons: It's easy, it’s flexible and it works. It was named the best diet overall for 2021 by a U.S. News & World Report panel of health experts. This is just one of the many accolades it has received.

Tatiana Castellino, a ProHealth Care dietitian and educator who specializes in diabetes, describes the Mediterranean diet as an evidence-based practice focused on plant-based foods rather than a strict diet.

"It's all about planning healthy eating around a wide range of natural foods while limiting more processed, less nutritious options," Castellino said. "It's not the same as counting calories, grams or fat."

The Mediterranean lifestyle emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, and legumes such as lentils and beans. Sugar, saturated fats, processed foods, refined flour, carbohydrates, and animal-based and dairy products are avoided or limited.

"Many Americans consider vegetables as side dishes or afterthoughts, when they should be entrées at every meal," Castellino said. "Think one-ingredient whole foods – foods that don’t require ingredient listings, like steamed vegetables and fish."

The Mediterranean way of eating gives everyone the flexibility to focus on foods they enjoy. Vegetables, fruits, nuts such as almonds, and beans can be regular features on grocery lists. It’s not necessary to follow rigid meal plans and diet trends. Simply focusing on nutrients can help prevent disease, maintain weight, and boost energy and mood.

"Fish or other seafood are recommended a couple of times a week, as well as limited amounts of dairy and poultry," Castellino said. "Red meat and processed foods – products that come in a package with a long ingredient list – aren’t recommended as part of the Mediterranean diet."

She also suggested using creative approaches to eating, such as spreading avocado on whole-grain toast with a poached egg and adding roasted sweet potatoes to oatmeal at breakfast. Lunch can feature a berry, quinoa and citrus spinach salad or homemade soup loaded with vegetables and seasoned with herbs and spices.

"Vegetables should be the superstar of every meal, with protein coming from things like beans or marinated tofu," Castellino said. "You can add an ounce or two of animal-based protein such as chicken or turkey on occasion."

There is no wrong vegetable in Mediterranean eating, and vegetables can be purchased fresh, frozen or canned. Vegetables from the grocer’s freezer are flash-frozen, which retains flavor and fiber and locks in nutrition. Canned vegetables should contain low levels of sodium and be rinsed and drained to further reduce any added salt.

Lifelong healthy eating helps prevent disease, high blood pressure, obesity and inflammation, improving life and longevity. Adopting Mediterranean-style habits is a wise and effective step toward better health.