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The Mediterranean diet

Whiringa kai whakatautika

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that's based on traditional foods eaten in countries around the Mediterranean Sea.

People following the Mediterranean diet are more likely to live longer. They're also less likely to die from heart disease, stroke or cancer. The Mediterranean diet may prevent or reduce symptoms of diabetes, glaucoma, arthritis, Parkinson disease, menopause, depression and Alzheimer disease.

The diet varies in different Mediterranean regions. Usually, it's rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, wholegrains, fish and healthy fats. It includes small amounts of red meat and low‑fat milk products. The Mediterranean diet also focuses on a healthy lifestyle or pattern. This means keeping active, getting plenty of rest and sharing meals with family and friends.

Tips for following a Mediterranean diet

The following are tips to help you if you choose to follow the Mediterranean diet.

Eat plenty of plant foods

Have at least four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit every day. A serving is about a handful. Include at least one serving of raw vegetables every day. Eat a variety of different coloured and textured fruits and vegetables.

Eat boiled, baked or steamed potatoes up to three times a week.

Include wholegrains with every meal. Wholegrains include wholegrain bread, rolled oats, brown rice, wholemeal pasta and grains such as quinoa, millet, barley and buckwheat.

Have legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans in a couple of meals every week. The Heart Foundation's Full O'Beans cookbook has information and recipes for legumes.

Choose low‑fat milk and milk products

Use low‑fat milk (green or yellow top) instead of whole milk (dark blue top) and use yoghurt instead of ice cream. Choose low‑fat yoghurt and cheese such as Edam, feta and cottage cheese. Eat fermented milk products like live yoghurt and kefir regularly if you enjoy them.

Eat fish and seafood

Eat fish or other seafood such as mussels twice a week. Fresh fish or canned fish are healthy choices. Avoid fried fish. Use healthy cooking methods. Try grilling, steaming or lightly pan‑frying in a little olive or canola oil.

Have lean white meat and eggs

Have skinless chicken at least twice a week. Eat up to four eggs every week.

Limit red meat and processed meat

Don't eat more than two servings of red meat and one serving of processed meat a week. A serving is the size and thickness of the palm of your hand (about 100 grams cooked). Processed meats include bacon, ham, salami and corned beef (or silverside).

Eat olives, unsalted nuts and seeds every day

Have a small handful (30 grams) of nuts or seeds as a snack. Add diced olives to salads, stews or sandwiches. Sprinkle chopped nuts or seeds over your breakfast cereal, salad or stir‑fry.

Swap butter for olive oil

Replace butter and margarine with olive oil or canola oil. Lightly spread the oil on wholegrain bread and use it in cooking and dressings. Extra virgin olive oil has more antioxidants than other types of olive oil. It's also the most flavourful.

Enjoy a little wine

You can drink wine but if you don't drink alcohol, you don't need to start. If you drink alcohol, have it with meals and follow national guidelines on how much to drink safely.

Drink plenty of fluids

Drink at least eight cups of fluids a day. Water is best. Low‑ or reduced‑fat milk (light‑blue, green, or yellow top) and tea, herbal tea, and coffee with no sugar are also fine.

Flavour food without using salt

Season food with basil, bay leaf, garlic cloves, cumin, fennel, garlic, mint, onion, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage or thyme to add flavour or heat.

Limit sugar and sugary foods

Choose foods that are naturally sweet and contain lots of nutrients, like fruit. Keep sugary foods and drinks as occasional treats.

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Written by Masters of Dietetics student, University of Otago. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2022.


See also:

Meal planning and healthy recipes

How to cut down on sugar

How to eat more vegetables and fruit

Page reference: 624308

Review key: HIHEI-34305