Got questions? I’m here to help. I get many questions over and over about the Mediterranean Diet. I put together this list of Mediterranean Diet FAQs that addresses the many questions and misconceptions about the Mediterranean diet.
It’s usually things like, “You’re eating carbs?” or “Can I drink smoothies?” or “Can I still go to Starbucks?” I’ve laid them all out below.
If there are any questions you would like answered, please put them in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer them.
Mediterranean Diet FAQs
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
First off I want to begin by saying that the Mediterranean Diet is not a diet in the traditional sense of the word as we use it in the United States. We’re not starving ourselves or cutting out whole food groups. We use the word “diet” to mean what we are eating. I eat a healthy diet. The word diet comes from the Greek whose root means “lifestyle.”
The Mediterranean diet is a way of life. Not something you do for a few weeks before you go to a wedding or a reunion. That’s called event dieting. This is retraining yourself to eat real food. Real, fresh, seasonal, unprocessed foods. It’s going back to an older way of life, the way our ancestors ate before they had canned goods and microwave ovens. Before the FDA approved all kinds of additives and processing methods in our food.
It means slowing down to eat, taking time to shop for fresh food, and taking time to prepare and cook it. It’s a lifestyle of moderation. I like to call it a lifestyle of moderate indulgences, because you don’t have to deprive yourself of anything, but like anything, if you overdo it you will gain weight.
The keys to the Mediterranean diet are olive oil, fresh vegetables, a variety of grains, healthy fishes, and smaller amounts of meat and sugars.
You may be interested in my cookbook, The Big Book of Mediterranean Diet Cooking, which features 200 recipes, three 2-week meal plans, and tips on getting started with a Mediterranean lifestyle.
Can I Eat Carbs on the Mediterranean Diet?
I get this one all the time. Americans are obsessed with carbs. Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that carbs are bad. Some people cut out carbs when they want to lose weight. The problems are: 1. you need carbs for energy, 2. there are highly processed simple carbs and there are complex healthy carbs, 3. the minute you start eating carbs again you gain the weight back.
If you go to the supermarket and look at the bread aisle, you are looking at an entire aisle of highly processed bad food. The prepackaged sliced breads are loaded with sugars in the form of high fructose corn syrup, sometimes sugar, sometimes honey, but there are dozens of unpronounceable ingredients on a loaf of sliced bread.
Bread in itself is not bad. Bread is not meant to have more than a few ingredients: flour, water, yeast, perhaps a little salt. I try to buy bread from my local bakery. Sometimes I make my own bread.
It’s not bread that is bad. It’s the bad bread that is bad.
Pasta is another food that people try to cut out. Italians don’t eat mountains of pasta the way Americans do. It’s not pasta that is bad for you. It’s the enormous portions of pasta that we eat in the U.S. It’s also the piles of meat and cheesy sauces we put on top.
In Italy pasta is usually a small course in the middle of a larger meal. They start with an appetizer, usually made of vegetables or perhaps a carpaccio of fish. The next course is pasta. It is a small portion and the sauce is made from the natural juices of the vegetables or meat that you add. It’s not smothered in sauce and cheese. You then move on to your small protein course, where you eat fish or poultry or meat. This all adds up to a well-rounded meal.
Don’t fear pasta. Also, you don’t have to eat whole wheat pasta or brown rice pasta or whatever other kind of fake pasta you find in the healthy food aisle. Pasta is a very simple recipe of semolina flour, oil, water, and sometimes egg.
So let me repeat: Carbs are not bad for you. It’s the highly processed carbs that you need to stay away from, and it’s the enormous portion sizes we eat in the U.S. that give carbs a bad name.
Can I Go to Starbucks on the Mediterranean diet?
The countries that border the Mediterranean sea are fairly obsessed with coffee. So, yes, you can go to Starbucks on the Mediterranean diet, you just have to be careful about what you order.
Coffee is a powerful antioxidant. In moderation (there’s that keyword again) coffee can be very beneficial. Overdo it, like anything else in life, and it can be too much of a good thing.
Also, coffee can be a simple drink. Have an espresso or a cup of brewed coffee. My favorite is a decaf nonfat latte. I like the creaminess of the latte but personally I don’t like the feeling or the taste of whole milk. A nonfat latte is not too many calories.
The sweet concoctions that Starbucks makes can load you up with sugars and calories. You have to be smart about what you are ordering. But if you really want a caramel frappuccino, have a small one, and then budget for it the rest of the day by balancing your day with healthy foods and exercise.
Does the Mediterranean Diet Include Smoothies?
If you want to drink smoothies, knock yourself out. I enjoy a good smoothie now and then. But I don’t drink them to lose weight. Depending on what you put in a smoothie, you can really drink a lot of calories in one drink.
Like anything, be smart about your smoothie. Fruits are full of sugar. If you are trying to lose weight, balance your smoothie ingredients with vegetables so you are not loading up on sugar.
Make your smoothies a meal replacement. You can pack a lot of nutrition into a smoothie, but if you add it along with your other meals, you will be taking in a lot of excess calories.
Can I Eat Meat on the Mediterranean Diet?
Yes, but in moderation. I used to be a vegetarian. I like to eat vegetables. I build my meals around the vegetables I want to eat and I occasionally add meat as a side dish. The traditional Mediterranean diet includes meat in moderation. That means meat in small portions and only a few times a month.
People in Crete don’t go to the supermarket and buy meat wrapped in plastic that was raised in a meat farm and fed a corn diet. They raise their own animals. The animals eat the same healthy vegetables they do, which is the diet they are naturally meant to eat, like bugs and grass and plants. You and I are probably not going to raise our own livestock, so it’s important to shop smart.
Be careful where you buy your meat. Buy the highest quality meat you can find and afford. Prepare it simply and eat it in moderation. Don’t build your meals around meat. Try replacing meat with fish or beans or vegetables. Meat should only be eaten occasionally.
And again if you feel like eating a cheeseburger, make it yourself. Don’t go to a fast food joint that is not serving anything remotely resembling real food.
I don’t have time to cook.
This isn’t really a questions, but I get this statement all the time.
Make time. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s tough love time. It doesn’t take long to make dinner. You can always prep ingredients in advance if you are really pressed for time. And if you are making something more elaborate, most of the time is usually spent waiting, not cooking, so you can do other things. Think about if you make something like a turkey for Thanksgiving. You get the bird in the oven and then wait a few hours. It’s not a constant chore in the kitchen.
But somehow people in the U.S. have been convinced that dinner is hard. It’s all designed to make you buy expensive prepackaged foods and processed meals.
I know what it’s like to be busy. I used to work long hours and the last thing I wanted to do was cook when I got home at 9PM from work. So I would go out somewhere to eat and I put on weight. My blood pressure rose. I went to bed on a full stomach because I ate too late at night. All because I couldn’t bring myself to cook. Make meals in advance so all you have to do is heat them up on days when you are really going to be late. Or prepare meals so all you have to do is pop them in the oven. Have ingredients in the house to make a wonderful salad, or soup, or a quick rice bake.
Get a few quick tasty meals under your belt, your go-to meals for when you don’t have a lot of time.
Saying you don’t have time is just an excuse. If you really want to be healthy, you’ll find a way to prepare or make the time. We must do these things. It’s a matter of priorities. Enjoy the process of cooking. Share the time with family and friends. Act as if you are doing something special for yourself. You’re worth it. You’re worth a good home-cooked meal.
How Do I Shop for the Mediterranean Diet?
People ask me for tips of what to look for when they go to the supermarket. Here are some of my basics for the Mediterranean diet.
Olive Oil: I buy two kinds of olive oil: the regular and extra virgin. Regular olive oil is better for cooking. Extra virgin olive oil has a lower heat point and will smoke quickly if you try to cook with it. Extra virgin is better for salad dressings, and for drizzling on food for added flavor after a meal is cooked.
Fresh Seasonal Vegetables: Shop in the produce section for fresh vegetables. Buy leafy greens and all of the many colors of vegetables you see in this section. I try to stay away from canned and frozen vegetables. The texture and flavor are not the same.
Healthy Grains: Try some of the interesting grains like farro, quinoa, couscous, barley and others. They are delicious, full of healthy ingredients, and will help keep you full longer.
Beans: I buy cannellini beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils. These are filling, add protein to a meal, and taste great.
Fish: Hearty fishes like salmon, tuna, mackerel, swordfish, etc. are full of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and are a large part of the Mediterranean diet. It’s easy to fit fish into your diet. Make a tuna sandwich for lunch. Bake some salmon for dinner. Surround it with vegetables and a hearty grain and you’re all set.
When shopping and planning meals, think about adding nutrition to each meal. Instead of building a meal around meat with some side dishes, try building a meal around how much nutrition you can add to your plate. Make meat the occasional side dish. Make vegetables, beans, grains, and fish your main choices.
What can I eat for breakfast on the Mediterranean diet? Everyone always says breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
First of all, you can check out my breakfast playlist on my YouTube channel to get ideas. There is also a breakfast chapter in my book, The Big Book of Mediterranean Diet Cooking, if you want ideas for how people eat breakfast all around the Mediterranean areas.
The most important meal of the day is the one that is most important to you. I don’t really eat breakfast all that often, so I don’t agree that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It has to do more with what fits in with your lifestyle. I like to sleep in, and sometimes I don’t eat right away when I get up. I really don’t eat for a couple of hours. I might have a cup of coffee. By the time I eat, it’s lunchtime, so I don’t always eat traditional breakfast foods.
You can eat anything you want for breakfast. Don’t be restricted by what people traditionally say is breakfast. You don’t always have to eat eggs and bacon, or cereal, or oatmeal. Eat whatever you want. If you have a cold chicken leg in the fridge, feel free to eat it for breakfast.
In countries like Italy and France, breakfast is not a big deal. In Italy, they may have an espresso or a cappuccino with a cookie, in France they have coffee and perhaps a small piece of baguette with butter and maybe some jam. So, have whatever you want for breakfast, and don’t feel like you have to eat it at all if you don’t want to.
Can I be plant-based on the Mediterranean diet?
Yes! It’s so easy to be plant-based on the Mediterranean diet. I’m always saying to eat vegetables. Try to eat at least 5-10 vegetables every day. Make them a variety of vegetables in all different colors so you get different nutrients. Be careful to get a protein source. If you’re not eating meat or animal products, sometimes you’ll have a hard time getting Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, so check with your doctor about what supplements could be appropriate for you.
It’s very easy to be plant-based and stick to a Mediterranean diet, because you can eat all kinds of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Plant-based can mean vegetarian, it can mean vegan, it can mean flexitarian, it’s however you choose to interpret plant-based. Adding more plants into your diet is the healthiest way to eat.
How much food should I actually eat in a day?
It really depends on your body type and what your goals are. You goal could be to lose weight, or to gain weight, or to gain muscle mass. Some people are tall, some are short. You have to work out how many calories are appropriate for your body in one day.
I’m only 5’ 4” so I can’t eat as much food in a day as someone who is 6 feet tall. For me, personally, to maintain my weight I eat about 1,400-1,600 calories a day. When I am trying to lose weight, I try to eat 1,200 calories a day. If I want to lose weight faster, my doctor said I could probably do 1,000 calories as long as I make sure I’m still get enough nutrition.
But you shouldn’t follow my guidelines. You should really discuss this with your doctor. He can tell based on your height, weight, and what your goals are, and what you body type is, how many calories you can eat in a day.
Is there any food I should be eating every day for nutrition and good health?
Yes, dark leafy greens. You should add leafy greens as much as you can in your diet. When you’re making up your plate for dinner, fill half of your plate with vegetables, and then add an extra scoop of greens. You can read my article, 10 Greens To Eat Instead of Kale to learn about 10 healthy greens that are alternatives to kale. Of course, you can eat kale as well, I just don’t happen to like it.
You can put greens in salads, you can cook them. You can add them to soups, stews, pasta dishes, or eat them on their own. Leafy greens are nutrient dense and low in calories. Eat greens every day.
I hope you found these Mediterranean Diet FAQs helpful. If you have any questions about the Mediterranean diet, please put them in the comments below, and I will address them in another video and blog post.
Here are some videos where I address these questions:
Are you allowed to eat canned vegetables on the Mediterranean diet?
I use canned tomatoes all the time. But with other vegetables fresh is always best. If you can’t find something you need in the produce section, try frozen vegetables. Canned vegetables will usually contain more sodium and have a mushier texture. But they still have nutritional value.
Can you eat beans like we eat in the south, navy, northern, black eyed peas? And what about whole wheat bread that’s found in supermarkets?
Yes, all beans are very good for you. You have to be careful with supermarket breads. They usually have so many ingredients including hidden sugars, when bread should be a very simple recipe. I find that wheat breads especially usually have added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup or honey. Breads don’t need sweetener. Read the ingredient label on bread. You’ll often find that they have 20+ ingredients, when bread should just be flour, water, yeast, and maybe a pinch of salt. Try buying bread at a local bakery. It will be made fresh and have far fewer ingredients. I hope this helps.