The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) is based on the traditional food and lifestyle of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, most notably in Greece and the South of Italy. Despite being called a “diet,” it’s more a way of life that emphasizes consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fish. It is rich in healthy fats (monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids) and low in saturated fat. It is also rich in antioxidants, phytosterols, and probiotics.
This article will cover a few of its health benefits and a list of quick, traditional, and popular Mediterranean recipe ideas that will surely add excitement to your lunch!
What are the Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?
Eating a Mediterranean diet can help with weight loss by reducing calorie intake without drastically cutting down on how much you eat. The high intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides plenty of dietary fiber, which helps to keep you full and prevents overeating.
Focusing on healthy fats, such as olive oil, can help reduce hunger and cravings, while eating fish and seafood increases the feeling of satiety, thus reducing caloric intake. The Mediterranean diet also encourages physical activity and an active lifestyle, which helps burn calories and aids in weight loss.
Other health benefits include:
- Lowers Risk of Heart Disease. Studies show that consuming healthy amounts of extra virgin olive oil and nuts was superior to lowering the incidence of major cardiovascular events compared to those who just consumed a low-fat diet.
- Boosts Brain Health. The brain flourishes when it sources energy from fat molecules instead of sugar (think diesel engine versus cheap gas). Researchers found that the MedDiet improves memory, more specifically long-term and working memory. It’s even associated with slower rates of cognitive decline and reduced conversion to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Improves Gut Health. Recent studies have highlighted food's tremendous impact on the microbiome, mental health, insulin sensitivity, and weight loss. Damaging bacteria in the gut thrive on high-sugar/saturated fat diets, which increases the permeability of the inner lining of the intestines. This allows endotoxins to be absorbed into the bloodstream, sending the body into an inflammatory state. The MedDiet, on the other hand, emphasized fiber and unsaturated fats, which keep the gut from entering a harmful metabolic endotoxic state.
- Prevents Type 2 Diabetes. Research shows that artificial sweeteners worsen insulin resistance for those who gravitate toward sugar-free items. By eating more healthy fats and less sugar, people living with diabetes have better glycemic control and more sustained weight loss long-term.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more: </strong> <a href="/blog/mediterranean-diet-for-beginners">Mediterranean Diet Beginners Guide: Benefits, Meal Plan & Tips</a>.</p>
- Reduces High Blood Pressure. A famous study, the PREDIMED trial (PREvención con DIeta MEDiterránea), examined over 7,000 people who followed the MedDiet for four years. The percentage of participants with controlled blood pressure increased in all of the intervention groups, which is quite impressive considering the size of the study. Those who consumed regular amounts of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) and nuts had the greatest reduction in diastolic pressure.
- Promotes Mental Health. When you eat more whole foods and exercise, you inherently sleep and feel better. Having daily goals and sticking to them creates a positive sense of accomplishment. Because the MedDiet supports brain health, it’s no surprise that after three to six months, study participants report fewer depressive symptoms.
- Lowers Women’s Risk of Stroke, Gestational Diabetes, and Perinatal Trauma. Reaching for EVOO and a handful of pistachios was shown in one study of 500 normoglycemic pregnant women to reduce the incidence of GDM and improve several maternal and neonatal outcomes.
- May Reduce the Risk of Common Cancers. A large meta-analysis of 273 studies between 1985 - 2010 showed that consuming a MedDiet reduced their risk of developing cancer. A higher degree of MedDiet adherence is associated with a lower overall cancer incidence.
The 20 Best Mediterranean Lunch Ideas for a Nutritious Meal
(gluten-free, GF; dairy-free, DF; vegan, V; keto, K; paleo, P)
1. Tomato Salad With Grilled Halloumi (GF)
Tomato Salad With Grilled Halloumi is a delicious and healthy salad dish. It is prepared by grilling slices of halloumi and combining them with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, olives, fresh herbs, and a light vinaigrette dressing. This salad contains nutrients, including calcium, protein, and healthy fats from the halloumi, vitamin C and lycopene from the tomatoes, and fiber from the cucumbers and olives.
2. Greek Salad (GF, K, P)
A Greek salad is a popular Mediterranean dish made of crisp lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and olive oil and lemon juice dressing. Greek salad is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that can help with weight loss, boost the immune system, and improve digestion.
3. Cauliflower Rice Bowls with Grilled Chicken (GF, DF, K, P)
This dish is packed with flavor, nutrients, and fiber while being low in calories and fat. The grilled chicken provides lean protein, while the cauliflower rice gives a light, low-carbohydrate base. Feel free to add your desired seasonings, garnish, and accouterment.
4. Lemon Chicken Skewers With Tzatziki (GF, K)
The skewers are made of marinated chicken pieces, perfectly grilled, and served with a creamy tzatziki sauce. This dish is a good source of protein and healthy fats and provides essential vitamins and minerals. It is also gluten-free and keto-friendly.
5. Avocado Toast with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Dill, and Capers (GF, DF, K).
This dish combines healthy fat from the avocado, protein from the smoked salmon, and anti-inflammatory compounds from the fresh dill and capers. The healthy fats can help fill you up, while the salmon provides essential omega-3 fatty acids.
6. Chicken Gyro Bowl (GF)
This dish consists of grilled chicken, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and olives, all served over a bed of white rice and topped with a creamy tzatziki sauce. It is packed with high-quality protein and essential vitamins and minerals, making it a great option for fueling your body.
7. Spicy Cauliflower Rice (GF, DF, K, P, V)
Cauliflower rice is a flavorful and healthy alternative to regular white rice and is made by grating cauliflower into small pieces resembling rice grains. This dish is usually seasoned with garlic, onion, chili powder, and other spices. It is low in carbs and high in nutrition, providing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
8. Falafel Kale Salad With Tahini Dressing (GF)
This is a healthy and delicious salad that combines flavorful falafels, crunchy kale, and a creamy tahini dressing. The falafels are made with chickpeas, herbs, and spices and are typically deep-fried. The kale is tossed with lemon juice and olive oil, and the tahini dressing is made with tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. This salad is a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
9. Mediterranean Lentil Salad (GF, DF, K, V, P)
This salad is made with cooked lentils, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, olives, herbs, and a simple olive oil and lemon juice dressing. It is a great source of plant-based proteins, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is also low in calories and fat and can be a great way to add more plant-based proteins and fiber to your diet.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Keep reading: </strong> <a href="/blog/mediterranean-diet-breakfast-recipes">10 Mediterranean Diet Breakfast Recipes to Fuel Your Morning</a>.</p>
10. Black Bean & Avocado Salad (GF, DF, V, K, P)
This healthy and delicious meal combines black beans, tomatoes, corn, avocado, and a light lime-olive oil dressing. The black beans provide a great source of plant-based protein, while the avocado and tomatoes add healthy fats and natural antioxidants. These ingredients make this salad an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
11. Mediterranean Quinoa Salad (GF)
This dish is made with cooked quinoa, fresh vegetables, herbs, and feta cheese and is dressed with a simple vinaigrette. This salad is high in fiber and protein, making it a nutritious and filling meal. It is also a great source of healthy fats and vitamins, including vitamins A and C.
12. Greek Lemon Chicken Soup (GF, DF, P)
Greek lemon chicken soup is a traditional Greek recipe with chicken, vegetables, lemon juice, and herbs. It is a light, flavorful, healthy soup with vitamins and minerals.
13. Tuna Chickpea Salad (GF, DF, K, V)
This healthy salad is made with canned tuna, chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and chickpeas tossed in a light lemon dressing. This dish is packed with protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals, making it a nutritious and satisfying meal.
14. Chickpea Soup (GF, DF, K, P, V)
This soup is a great source of plant protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Chickpea soup can be made with various vegetables, herbs, and spices to create a unique flavor.
15. Couscous & Chickpea Salad (GF, DF, K, P, V)
This salad is a delicious and nutritious dish made of cooked couscous, chickpeas, diced tomatoes, red onions, parsley, mint, and a simple vinaigrette. It is a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and is low in fat and calories.
16. Greek Turkey Burgers With Tzatziki
These burgers are a savory combination of lean ground turkey, feta cheese, and fresh herbs, topped with a creamy tzatziki sauce made with Greek yogurt, cucumber, and garlic. The Greek flavors take this burger to the next level. This meal is high in protein and low in fat, making it a great option for those looking to include lean protein in their diet.
17. Quinoa-Stuffed Eggplant With Tahini Sauce (GF, V)
This entree is packed with protein from quinoa, fiber from eggplant, and healthy fats from tahini sauce. The health benefits of this dish include aiding digestion, helping to reduce cholesterol, and providing essential vitamins and minerals.
18. Greek Fattoush Salad (GF, DF, V)
Greek fattoush salad is a traditional Mediterranean dish with fresh vegetables, herbs, and a light dressing. It typically includes tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, and lettuce and is often topped with crispy pita chips and a zesty lemon-garlic dressing. This salad is high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and is low in calories.
19. Couscous & Falafel Bowl With Tahini Sauce (GF, DF, V, P)
This bowl consists of couscous, falafel, and a creamy tahini sauce. The couscous and falafel provide a variety of important nutrients, such as fiber, protein, and healthy fats. The tahini sauce is made with sesame seeds, which are a great source of calcium and other minerals. This dish is gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and paleo. It can also be made keto-friendly by substituting couscous for cauliflower rice.
20. Orzo Salad With Chickpeas & Lemon (GF, DF, V)
This salad is made with orzo, chickpeas, cucumber, red onion, lemon juice, and various herbs. It contains nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, and is a great source of energy.
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