What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

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You may have heard of the Mediterranean Diet and the high praise it receives for helping us get or stay healthy. This dietary pattern has been gaining attention for a long time, with good reason. However, many people are not sure exactly what it is and how to apply the principles to their meal planning. They just know that the Mediterranean Diet is supposed to be healthy. Below you will find more information about the Mediterranean Diet and what eating the Med Way looks like.

vegetables, herbs, and spices on cutting board

Facts About the Mediterranean Diet 

  • The Mediterranean diet can be affordable and fit into a variety of flavor profiles.
  • This dietary pattern is associated with a lowered risk of chronic disease & some types of cancer. 
  • Studies on the Mediterranean Diet began in the 1950s with the work of Ancel Keys; however, it didn’t gain worldwide attention until the 1990s. 
  • The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include the Mediterranean Diet as a healthy dietary pattern that includes a focus on nutrient dense foods & appropriate proportions. 

Key Points of the Mediterranean Diet:

  • Mostly plant based foods
  • Seafood and lean poultry more often than other meats 
  • Variety of colors of fruits and vegetables each day including dark green vegetables
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and popcorn
  • Healthy fats from nuts and olive oil rather than solid fats like butter 
  • Flavor foods with herbs and spices rather than extra salt

Why Consider the Mediterranean Diet?

Growing evidence from research lets us know that there are significant health benefits associated with adhering to the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet has demonstrated its effectiveness in helping prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some forms of cancer (Martini, 2019). It is said that the majority of health benefits most likely are due to the high levels of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the foods included as well as its positive effect against obesity (Finicelli, Di Salle, Galderisi, & Peluso, 2022). 

list of things the mediterranean diet protects against and helps improve set against a green background

*Reference list at bottom of post

Flavor Preferences

Adapting this dietary pattern into your lifestyle doesn’t mean you can’t have the recipes your family enjoys. You may just need to make a few ingredient swaps to make the recipe line up with the principles of the Mediterranean Diet. The great thing about this style is that you can adapt it to any flavor profile by mixing and matching herbs and spices. As long as you adhere to the core principles there is no end to what you can cook up! 

N.C. Cooperative Extension has a program called Med Instead of Meds. This program includes “Med Flips” which help you turn your recipe into something healthy and delicious. For example, plain green beans can be “flipped” into summer green bean salad. This is one of the many recipes available on the Med Instead of Meds website

What It Can Look Like:

Here are some ideas for how you can use these principles while planning meals throughout the day. These are recipes from the Med Instead of Meds website. You can use any recipes that match the core principles for the Mediterranean Diet. 

Example Breakfast: Power Pancakes 

Example Lunch: Quick Burrito Bowl 

Example Dinner: Cranberry Lime Soda , Med House Salad, & Honey & Citrus Chicken Drumsticks

Budget Friendly Tips

There are plenty of ways to keep your grocery bill affordable while sticking to a Mediterranean style menu. See the list below to find ways to keep your food choices budget friendly. 

  • Save money by purchasing fruits and vegetables in season. Find a produce availability chart that shows when produce is in season in NC. 
  • If fruits and vegetables are out of season, look for frozen or canned produce. If buying canned, look for fruits canned in 100% juice and veggies canned without salt.

Tip: Rinsing canned veggies can help reduce the sodium content. 

  • The Mediterranean Diet includes an emphasis on fish which can be pricey. Fish canned in water (not oil) can be a more affordable option that is shelf stable. 
  • Plant based proteins like beans and legumes are affordable and high in fiber (which is very filling). Dried beans require soaking, but are often cheaper by weight than canned. 
  • Brown rice is a whole grain that is very filling. This can help bulk up your meal and provide a great source of fiber. 
  • Eggs are a good protein option in place of poultry and meats in some meals. 
  • Rather than buying bottled water, find a reusable water bottle that you like and perhaps a water filter if needed for improved flavor. 
  • Try to grow a vegetable or herb garden or participate in a community garden. 
  • Use your grocery store cards or coupons for extra savings. 
  • Prepare more meals at home rather than eating out. Save leftovers for a second meal. 
  • Prepare recipes that will stretch to more than one meal by including filing high fiber foods such as whole grains, beans, and lots of veggies.


If you’d like to learn more about Mediterranean style eating you can take one of our Med Instead of Meds workshops. Fill out this program interest form if this is something you would like to attend in Randolph County.

You can also find recipes and tips at the Med Instead of Meds website at:

Med instead of Meds


  1. Martini D. (2019). Health Benefits of Mediterranean Diet. Nutrients, 11(8), 1802. 
  2. Finicelli, M., Di Salle, A., Galderisi, U., & Peluso, G. (2022). The Mediterranean Diet: An Update of the Clinical Trials. Nutrients, 14(14), 2956. 
  3. Merra, G., Noce, A., Marrone, G., Cintoni, M., Tarsitano, M. G., Capacci, A., & De Lorenzo, A. (2020). Influence of Mediterranean Diet on Human Gut Microbiota. Nutrients13(1), 7.