The Mediterranean Diet, Deconstructed

Featured Article, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition, Special Diets
on January 31, 2013
A list of health benefits and foods that are part of the Mediterranean Diet.
Kristin Sweeting

If you think the Mediterranean diet is all about pasta and olive oil, think again: Real Mediterranean cuisine comprises not just the foods of Italy, but Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Spain, provencal France, Morocco and Tunisia, too. It’s a riotous mix of tastes, from sticky, sweet baklava to creamy, garlicky hummus to chewy calamari.

Considered by many to be one of the healthiest diets in the world, the Mediterranean diet and healthful lifestyle was associated with more than a 50 percent lowering of early death rates, in a 10-year study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA.)

What makes it so healthy, and so different from a typical American diet? This cheat sheet, compiled with the help of  Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways Preservation Trust , a non-profit organization dedicated to reconnecting people with healthy traditional diets, and Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, makes it easy for you.

Origins: Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Spain, Southeastern France, Morocco, Tunisia
Key components: Fresh veggies, herbs and garlic, nuts and fruit
Primary protein source: Seafood and beans
Main fat source: Olive oil
Top carb sources: Starchy vegetables, whole grains
Important limits: Red meat once a month; eggs once a week
Bonus beverage: Wine (red, mostly), 1-2 glasses a day

RELATED: Click here for three super simple Mediterranean recipes.

Healthier hearts. Cuts odds of dying from heart disease by as much as 33 percent
Less diabetes. Lowers risk of type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome (a diabetes precursor) by 83 percent
Cancer protection. Drops death rates from cancer by 24 percent and reduces rates of breast, prostate and other cancers
Brain defense. Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease by almost half
Better bones. Helps to prevent age-related bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis

Extra virgin olive oil: A less expensive one for cooking and baking and a cold-pressed, unfiltered, “gourmet” type for dressings and drizzling
Dried and canned beans: Chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, white Tuscan beans
Pasta: Penne, spaghetti and twisted pasta (look for hard durum wheat or durum semolina on the label)
Whole grains: Bulgur, barley and brown rice (both long-grain and short-grain)
Canned whole tomatoes: Preferably organic, no-salt-added
Dried fruits: Dates, figs, raisins, cherries, apricots
Anchovies and olive-oil-packed sardines
Wine: Preferably red

RELATED: Mediterranean Carrot Salad recipe


  • Onions, garlic, carrots
  • Leafy greens
  • Tomatoes (in season)
  • Fresh herbs
  • Potatoes
  • Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage


  • Frozen peas, broccoli, spinach
  • Ground beef and/or pork (85-90 percent lean)
  • Cooked beans
  • Prosciutto, salami or other cured meats
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, feta, mozzarella
  • Nuts, olives and capers
  • Chicken, beef or vegetable stock (homemade)
  • Eggs