Mediterranean Diet: Guide for a Heart-Healthy Diet

Many people want to change their health, but oftentimes get frustrated with the myriad of healthy eating methods, especially when the information is sought from unreliable sources such as TikTok and other social media platforms. Improving your health can seem daunting when unreliable advice is given.

Most people associate the word “diet” with a way of eating that severely restricts many foods or beverage items, or even complete food groups such as meat or dairy. Additionally, it's associated with the lack of pleasure that is derived from eating, particularly in regard to social gatherings. 

However, registered dietitians are the experts in food and nutrition, and can help a person to understand their body’s needs, and effective methods of using food as medicine, which makes health something tangible. 

University Health registered dietitian Carlie Hanson answers some questions about the popular Mediterranean diet, and shares recipes to hop on this healthy trend.

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

It’s exactly what it sounds like! It reflects the eating habits of those living around the Mediterranean Sea such as Italy, Greece, France, Morocco and Monaco. The Mediterranean diet is quickly becoming the nutritional gold-standard for the management of chronic conditions such as diabetescardiovascular disease, hypertension and obesity.

Scientific studies have found a link between this way of eating and the lower incidence of the chronic diseases mentioned above.

People in this region have access to rich soil for farming and a coastline for fresh seafood, so their diet is primarily plant-based and very low in red meats. It is also moderately comprised of fatty fish, eggs and red wine.

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Modifying your eating habits to include more of the foods identified above may seem like a small change, but it can have a big impact. The Mediterranean diet offers many benefits, including: 

  • Improved cognitive function
  • Improved digestion, reduced constipation
  • Lower cholesterol and triglycerides 
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular diseases 
  • Lower risk of certain types of cancer
  • Longevity
  • Improve blood sugar control
  • Weight control

What’s Included in the Mediterranean Diet? 

This list isn’t all-inclusive, but it will give you a good starting point:


  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Melon
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Pears


  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Okra
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes

Whole grains

  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Farro
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Polenta
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Wild rice

Legumes and lentils

  • Cannellini beans
  • Chia seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Flaxseed
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Pistachios
  • Sesame seeds

Meats and seafood

  • Chicken
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Turkey

Dairy and cheese

  • Low-fat, natural cheese
  • Fat-free or skim milk
  • Fat-free or skim cottage cheese
  • Fat-free or skim yogurt

Healthy fats

  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Olives
  • Olive oil

What’s Limited in the Mediterranean Diet? 

Following a Mediterranean diet is not rigid with rules regarding when and how much of these foods you should eat. Rather, it encourages a robust variety of whole foods which are rich in antioxidants, excellent sources of fiber and plant-based proteins. 

In contrast, the Western diet is rich in ultra-processed foods loaded with saturated fats and sodium. A good rule of thumb is the longer the shelf-life, the shorter your life expectancy. 

Is the Mediterranean Diet Good for People with Diabetes?

"Yes, however, people living with diabetes should still receive education from a dietitian regarding counting carbohydrates to control their blood glucose," Hanson said.

Is the Mediterranean Diet Anti-Inflammatory?

"Yes, definitely! The variety of colors in fruits and vegetables provide special nutrients called phytonutrients. These provide powerful antioxidants which are important for fighting the development and progression of many cancers and chronic inflammatory conditions," Hanson said.

Mediterranean Diet Recipes

Hanson shares some recipes she recommends if you want to try out the Mediterranean diet yourself. Bonus points if you buy your ingredients from local farmers markets to ensure seasonal produce is at its peak freshness!

Breakfast: Mozzarella, Basil & Zucchini Frittata

Lunch: Chickpea & Quinoa Bowl with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Dinner: Sheet-Pan Roasted Salmon & Vegetables

How to Start the Mediterranean Diet

Want to make a move toward a Mediterranean style of eating but aren’t sure where to begin? Talk with your primary care provider or cardiologist about your heart health, take all medications as prescribed and get routine lab work done. 

Your primary care provider can refer you to a registered dietitian, who can expertly and compassionately help you understand and implement healthy eating in practical ways to improve your health. 

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