Incorporate these foods into your diet to add some tasty, heart-healthy nutrition!
The Mediterranean lifestyle conjures up scenes of fresh warm breads dipped in aromatic olive oils, chased with full-bodied red wines and happiness. A warm breeze carries the sound of a guitar strumming in the distance. Mamma mia!
And truth be told, it seems like the Mediterranean has cracked the code on joyful health. Study after study confirms reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death, due in part to eating patterns that promote reduced inflammation, blood sugar, and healthy weight.
The modern take on the Mediterranean diet reflects the eating patterns and foods commonly found in the Mediterranean region, and part of beauty is that there is no one “right” way to do it.
General guidelines include:
- Emphasis on fruits and vegetables🍓🥒🥕
- Healthy fats, such as from olive oil, fatty fishes, nuts, and avocado🥑
- Fish as the primary animal protein source, in addition to small amounts of poultry, eggs and dairy
- Limited red meat
- Moderate wine with meals🍷
The only rule? Enjoy! In this guide we’ll highlight top foods that fit in to the Mediterranean diet to inspire you to get in the kitchen and whip up your own 5-star meal ⭐
Top 10 Mediterranean Foods
Snack them on their own, or come up with your own flavor combinations. Your creativity’s the limit!
Olives & Olive Oil
One of the most classic features of the Mediterranean diet, olives are more than just a funky fruit. There are many varieties of olives to try - start doing some taste tests to find your favorite! The flavor will vary based on the age of the olive at picking, as well as how it was cured.
Like olives, olive oil flavors will also vary based on the maturity of the olive at picking. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed of the olive oil varieties and will therefore have the most health benefits intact.
A key characteristic of olives and olive oil is their high percentage of monounsaturated fats, in addition to fat-soluble vitamin E. When monounsaturated fats replace saturated fats and trans fats in the diet, you see improved cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health. Olive oil is abundant in polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that display anticancer, anti-angiogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties. The high content these polyphenols makes virgin olive oil relatively stable and resistant to oxidation, minimizing the risk of potential formation of carcinogenic products upon storage.
Add whole olives to your salads and cook with olive oil to add flavor and monounsaturated fats to your meals!
Salmon is an oily fish, which is encouraged in the Mediterranean diet. On top of being delicious and versatile, salmon is packed with nutrients that support optimal health.
A 3.5 oz serving of salmon has about 24g of high quality protein, in addition to being an excellent source of several B vitamins - particularly niacin, B6, and B12. That same 3.5 oz serving of salmon is also an excellent source of selenium and a good source of potassium.
In addition to stellar micronutrient content, salmon is rich in essential omega 3’s that support brain and cardiovascular health, among other benefits that we’re still learning about!
A classic, ancient Mediterranean staple, medjool dates can be snacked on whole by themselves or transformed in creative dishes. Their natural sweetness also makes them a low-glycemic 1:1 sugar substitute in baking.
Dates are little nutritional powerhouses! They’re high in antioxidants, fiber, and have a wide range of micronutrients in each bite. Medjool dates, the most common type of date, are good sources of potassium and copper. A handful of dates can get you up to 20% of your day’s worth of potassium and 20% of copper, in addition to trace amounts of other micronutrients.
Although you’ll certainly taste the sweetness, their fiber content means they’re a low-glycemic food and promote stable blood sugar. Sweet! Time to order Joolies dates!
Nuts in general are encouraged in the Mediterranean diet, but walnuts in particular are chock full of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. In fact, walnuts are higher in antioxidant activity and essential omega 3 content than any other common nut!
The antioxidant activity and omega 3 content means walnuts fight free radical damage, reduce inflammation, and promote vascular health. These antioxidants and omega 3’s are notable in their effects on brain and cardiovascular health. Additionally, study after study shows correlations between walnut intake and decreased risk of cancers and chronic disease. That’s nuts!
Although these strange, spiky veggies might seem like a hassle to prepare, we promise the benefits are worth the trouble. Underneath that tough exterior, artichoke hearts are tasty, healthful additions to salads, pastas, or whatever other dishes you can think up!
One medium artichoke will get you almost 7g of fiber and is a good source of vitamin C, as well as antioxidants like cynarin and silymarin. They’re also higher in plant-based protein than most vegetables, clocking in at about 3.5 g per serving.
This fiber-antioxidant package translates into improved gut health and decreased risk of cancers and chronic disease. No wonder it fits in to the Mediterranean diet!
Pomegranates are another food that can be a pain to prepare but have a sweet reward. A 100g serving of pomegranate seeds contains a host of micronutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. In fact, this serving is a good source of vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, and has 4g of dietary fiber!
Pomegranates are known for their polyphenols, which is a class of phytonutrients that is still being studied for their benefits. The bright red color in pomegranates comes from the polyphenols called anthocyanins.
The range of compounds in pomegranates makes them a healthful addition to your delicious, disease-kicking diet!
Since the Mediterranean eating patterns emphasize unsaturated, heart-healthy fats, avocados are a logical addition to this list with their high monounsaturated fat content. General guidelines recommend replacing saturated fats in the diet with unsaturated fats.
In addition to their monounsaturated fats, avocados are high in fiber and have an array of other micronutrients. One avocado is a good source of the phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and copper, riboflavin, and niacin. This same serving is also an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, and potassium!
Avocados’ mild flavor makes them very versatile. Use them as a base for dips, add them to salads, or spread them on toast for a dense serving of nutrients!
Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are especially popular among the vegetarian and vegan communities for their complete plant-based protein content.
A serving of one cup of chickpeas has 14.5 g of complete protein and 12.5 g of fiber. This cup-sized serving is also packed with micronutrients - it’s a good source of thiamin, vitamin B6, potassium, and zinc, and an excellent source of folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese!
With chickpeas as the primary ingredient in hummus, this nutrient-dense dip is an excellent way to reach the recommended daily serving of legumes--especially when paired with vegetables and/or whole grains. Enjoy chickpeas in hummus, roasted and added to pastas and salads, or as a standalone side.
Garlic is more than just a flavorful addition in your cooking! Garlic has been hailed for millennia for its medicinal properties, likely attributed to its sulfuric compounds, like allicin. More recent studies have and are further exploring garlic as a functional food. Constituents of garlic are known to be effective in reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, anti-tumor effects, and antibacterial effects.
Although there are not many human studies investigating the cause-effect relationships of garlic in the body (yet), know that when you add garlic to your meals you are adding a host of complex phytochemicals that support your overall health. Garlic can be consumed in an array of ways besides fresh--garlic oil, garlic powder, aged garlic extract (AGE).
Mince garlic and add it to savory dishes for some added flavor!
In addition to being a good source of high quality protein and low in fat, the probiotic properties of the bacteria used to ferment yogurt support gut health! Not to mention, for those who are lactose-sensitive, yogurt is naturally lower in lactose because of the fermentation process.
There are many types of yogurt on the market, and each will vary a bit nutritionally based on the one you choose. For the most healthful yogurts, go for ones lower in fat and unsweetened, as flavored and sweetened yogurts will have added sugar. Your best bet is to buy it plain and flavor it yourself with fruits or your toppings of choice!
Regardless of the yogurt you pick, know that you’re getting a good dose of micronutrients including B vitamins and calcium, along with probiotics and protein.
You don’t need to follow any diet perfectly to reap the health benefits. After all, the Mediterranean lifestyle is about balancing joy with health!
At Joolies, we love eating in a Mediterranean mindset as much as possible. Here are a few Mediterranean recipes that include our medjool dates and medjool date syrup!
- Prosciutto wrapped stuffed dates
- Honey cream cheese stuffed dates
- Kale salad with medjool dates and avocado
It’s often better for both our physical and mental health to focus on what you can put in to your diet than just what you should take out. Whether you’re incorporating some old favorites off this list or are in the mood to try something new, mix and match these foods to create fun, tasty meal combinations!