Written by Anna Pashkova, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-EP / Reviewed by Chef Julie Andrews, MS, RDN, CD, FAND
You may have heard of it, but have you ever wondered what the Mediterranean diet is all about?
If the answer is yes, or if you already know what it is and are looking for some ideas and recipes, you've come to the right place.
I've outlined the ins and outs of the typical foods consumed in the Mediterranean region, why their diet and lifestyle is one of the world's healthiest and how to emulate that, no matter where you live.
Salmon Nicoise Salad
It sounds fancy, but nicoise salad is traditionally a French salad served with greens, tuna (and in this case, salmon), potatoes, green beans and hard-boiled eggs with other veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers and olives.
I, of course, wouldn't even consider leaving the olives off because they provide such fabulous flavor, but you can absolutely switch things up to make this salad the way you like it!
Olive Hummus is the star of this appetizer platter!
Homemade hummus with olive pesto, served with fresh vegetables and pita.
Watch this hummus with olive tapenade disappear, it's so delicious!
Kale and Crispy Chickpea Caesar Salad
This kale caesar salad with crispy chickpeas is the salad to beat all other salads!
Dinosaur kale is massaged with the BEST caesar dressing, then tossed with freshly shaved Parmesan, crispy roasted chickpeas and drizzled with more of that amazing caesar salad.
You need this salad in your life!
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet comes from the region surrounding the Mediterranean sea.
It's based on the traditional eating habits of the people who live in the area and is widely recognized to be one of the easiest and healthiest eating patterns to follow by health professionals, including dietitians.
Here are the main components of the Mediterranean diet:
- Fruits + vegetables: A driving factor of this eating pattern, fruits and veggies make up a large portion of the diet since it is heavily plant-based.
- A variety of produce is encouraged such as olives, tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes, grapes, citrus fruit, cucumbers and more!
- Whole grains: This can include brown rice, oats, whole grain pasta and breads, buckwheat, and others.
- Whole grains make a great base for meals or as a healthy snack!
- Beans + legumes: You'll see more beans and legumes in the Mediterranean Diet than meat, and especially red meat.
- Any types of beans work as well as chickpeas, peas, and lentils.
- Healthy fats: A variety of foods can contribute to this category like nuts, seeds, and extra-virgin olive oil.
- While seafood and fish are their own category, fatty fish can count as healthy fats as well. Olive oil can be used in some cooking and in salad dressing.
- Nuts and seeds can be added to snacks or as toppings, and fatty fish can be a great protein source to round out a meal.
- Fish + seafood: One of the primary protein sources in the Mediterranean diet, fish and seafood also bring in a ton of heart- and brain-healthy nutrients like omega-3s.
Mediterranean Chickpea and Tuna Salad
An easy, simple, nutritious and delicious mediterranean recipe for chickpea & tuna salad that comes together in just 10 minutes!
It's made mostly out of pantry staples, like canned tuna and chickpeas, kalamata olives, jarred artichokes, olive oil and vinegar, with a few fresh ingredients mixed in.
There are a million copycat recipes out there for your favorite Tuscan soup, Zuppa Toscana. But the truth is, THIS version is going to be your new favorite.
And that's because it has all of the ingredients and flavors we know and love - spiced Italian sausage, hearty kale, al dente Yukon golds and a creamy Italian seasoned broth - but it's a little lighter and lots tastier than the OG.
Maple Mustard Salmon with Roasted Broccoli
All hail the four-ingredient recipe. This perfectly seasoned, melt-in-your-mouth recipe for maple mustard salmon + roasted broccoli comes together in just under 30 minutes for a perfect weeknight dinner.
The ingredients to make this dish are so stellar on their own, and even more stellar together. Let's make it.
What isn't part of the Mediterranean Diet?
While there aren't necessarily any hard and fast rules about the Mediterranean Diet, it's known to be lower in things like highly processed foods, added sugars and sugary drinks, refined carbohydrates, salt, saturated fats, and processed or fatty meats.
And even if the recipe doesn't specifically include traditional ingredients found in Mediterranean cooking, as long as it's packed with vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, seafood, fish, olive oil, and the like.
It can still be included in the Mediterranean diet because these ingredients are packed with nutrition!
For example, an Asian-inspired dish that's loaded with vegetables can easily be part of the Mediterranean diet.
My MIND and brain health cookbooks are full of Mediterranean-style recipes!
Greek Salad with Feta Vinaigrette
Everyone loves a big fat Greek salad. This one is just like you get at a restaurant!
It features crisp romaine lettuce with cucumbers, tomato, kalamata olives, green pepper, loads of feta cheese and the BEST feta dressing with olive oil and oregano.
Lemon Asparagus Pasta
This six-ingredient lemon asparagus pasta dish is "carbonara creamy" and loaded with just what you'd expect - garlic, asparagus and fresh lemon.
Double or triple the recipe for an easy meal for entertaining inside - or al fresco in the backyard.
Greek Lamb Meatball Gyros
These Greek lamb meatballs are made of spiced ground lamb formed into tasty little balls and roasted to perfection.
They're juicy, golden brown, crispy-on-the-outside, and melt-in-your-mouth-inside.
As an added bonus, these lamb meatballs are made even better served as a gyro wrapped up in a toasted whole grain pita and topped with homemade mint pesto and coconut milk tzatziki!
The lifestyle of the Mediterranean
While the food and nutrition component of the Mediterranean lifestyle is important, the health of the Mediterranean people is also attributed to many other lifestyle habits.
In general, they tend to enjoy life at a slower, more intentional pace.
This includes a bigger focus on mindful eating at meals, which are usually home cooked and can last an hour or two (or more!).
Food is celebrated as something to enjoy, savor and connect over with loved ones, often with red wine as the drink of choice. In addition, natural ways of movement are incorporated throughout their day, like walking whenever possible.
All of this is truly part of a lifestyle, meaning no calorie counting or over-planning each move. It's just a part of their daily "normal".
While we may not always be able to model their way of living, we can all certainly take away some tips from the people of the Mediterranean region.
Carrot, Chickpea and Raisin Salad
This 5-ingredient carrot salad with chickpeas, raisins, cilantro and almonds, tossed in a citrus ginger vinaigrette is perfect for any time of the year and for any meal.
It's light, refreshing and full of nutrition! Make a big batch and enjoy all week.
Hummus and Vegetable-Stuffed Collard Wraps
I'd be lying if I said these collard green wraps aren't a bit messy to put together.
But I'd also be lying if I said they weren't absolutely delicious. And worth the mess.
I'm also going to be honest in saying that I don't always eat enough leafy green vegetables, so one of my goals is to find new and fun ways to incorporate them into at least one meal each day.
Which is what inspired me to make these wraps.
Mediterranean Kale Salad
You've never had a Mediterranean kale salad like this one!
It leaps out of the salad bowl with Mediterranean flavors! Big bold and briny olives, sweet tomatoes, salty feta, and crisp cucumber make this the perfect summer evening meal!
If you're looking for recipe ideas that fit into the Mediterranean diet eating pattern, here are a few to get you started:
Kelly Powers says
Love this post! It's great that you touch on the lifestyle piece – it's so important but often overlooked. I can't wait to try the kale and chickpea caesar salad!
Julie Andrews says
So true, Kelly! The lifestyle portion is incredibly important and it certainly wouldn't hurt to take a page from their book and slow down and enjoy our meals. 🙂 And I hope you love the Caesar salad - it's SO good!!