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Mediterranean diet

7-minute read

Key facts

  • The Mediterranean diet refers to eating food that is traditionally eaten by people living around the Mediterranean Sea.
  • There are many health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet including lowering your risk of bowel cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia.
  • The Mediterranean diet includes eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, fish and seafood, and minimal processed foods and red meat.
  • The Mediterranean diet is more than just the type of food you eat — also values eating with friends and family, and having longer meal times, to increase social connection and reduce stress.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet includes the food that people living in countries around the Mediterranean Sea such as Greece, Italy and Spain would traditionally eat. This way of eating is mainly made up of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, seeds and fish and olive oil, a moderate amount of dairy food, low amounts of red meat, and limited processed meats and packaged foods.

The World Health Organization recognises that research on the Mediterranean diet shows it has many positive effects on your health. Research also shows it has a lower impact on the environment than other healthy diets that include meat.

The Mediterranean diet is more than just the type of food you eat. It also values eating with friends and family and having longer meal times to increase your social connections and reduce your stress.

What food is in the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is based on:

  • vegetables and fruits
  • wholegrain breads and cereals
  • legumes (such as beans, chickpeas, lentils)
  • nuts and seeds
  • fish and seafood
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • herbs and spices

Poultry and dairy products in the Mediterranean diet include:

  • yoghurt
  • cheese
  • milk
  • lean proteins, including chicken or turkey
  • eggs

You can eat small amounts of red meat and sweets. You should only have processed meats, such as, bacon, salami, sausages, and packaged foods, occasionally. You should mainly drink water. If you choose to drink alcohol, wine, especially red wine in small amounts, is a better choice than mixed or sweetened alcoholic drinks.

Illustration of the Mediterranean diet food pyramid.
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is an easy guide, showing what to eat, and how to enjoy your meals.

What are the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet?

There are many health benefits to the Mediterranean diet, including reducing your risk of bowel cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia and even living longer. The Mediterranean diet can also be good for managing your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, bone health and mental health.

Many foods in the Mediterranean diet have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects — these help protect your body cells from damage. Olive oil has antioxidants, which can reduce the risk of heart disease. It is also a monounsaturated, heart-healthy fat.

The legumes such as chickpeas and beans in the Mediterranean diet give you dietary fibre, which can help reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol and keep you feeling full. These foods also give you a range of important vitamins and minerals.

There are healthy unsaturated fats from fish and nuts (such as omega-3 fats) that can lower triglycerides and may increase HDL cholesterol, which is the ‘good’ cholesterol.

Vegetables give you antioxidants, fibre and well as many other health benefits. Eating fruit can help you reduce your cholesterol and maintain a healthy weight, and can be a healthy alternative to a sweet, processed snack.

By swapping processed foods for wholegrain foods, such as wholegrain breads and pastas, brown rice and quinoa you are having carbohydrates that are better for your heart, good for your digestion and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

How can I incorporate the Mediterranean diet into my food habits?

Here are some ways you can include elements of the Mediterranean diet:

  • Have fresh or dried fruit every day.
  • Eat 5 or more serves of vegetables every day — include a variety of different coloured vegetables.
  • Replace a meat meal each week with a legume-based meal, such as chickpeas, lentils or beans.
  • Swap unhealthy fats and oils for extra virgin olive oil for cooking and dressing your salads.
  • Eat oily fish, such as salmon, tuna or mackerel, at least twice a week.

You can also include the social and cultural parts of the Mediterranean diet by:

  • sharing meals with your friends and family
  • eating meals slowly, so you appreciate the flavours
  • eating meals and snacks without distractions, instead of in front of the TV or at your desk

What are some Mediterranean diet meal plan ideas?

There are many options you can choose for each meal that follow the Mediterranean diet. Here are some suggestions:

  • Breakfast: natural Greek yoghurt with fruits and nuts.
  • Lunch: salad with tuna or grilled chicken breast, tomato, leafy greens such as spinach, and canned beans, dressed with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Dinner: vegetable soup with chickpeas, vegetables, canned tomatoes, carrot and onion.
  • Snack: avocado on wholegrain toast with lettuce, tomato and herbs.

When should I see my doctor?

If you want to make changes to your diet, ask your GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian for advice and support.

If you have a health condition, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, ask your doctor for specific advice on how to improve your diet. Your GP can work with you to develop a GP Management Plan (GPMP), and you may be eligible for Medicare rebates for allied health services, such as a dietitian.

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Last reviewed: October 2023

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