Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss: Food List and Recipes

Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss: Food List and Recipes

The Mediterranean diet has been consistently ranked among the best diets by a variety of expert, thanks to its benefits from extending lifespan, to improving cognitive function and heart health, lowering Type 2 diabetes risk and more — and you can try the Mediterranean diet for weight loss, too.

A 2018 study published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes found that following the Mediterranean diet for five years can decrease abdominal fat and the likelihood of weight gain. Looking at the Mediterranean diet versus a low-carb one, another study, published in 2015 in the American Journal of Medicine, found that being on the former led to losing double the amount of weight compared to the latter.

One thing that sets the Mediterranean diet apart is that it isn’t a diet in a the traditional sense of calorie deficits and strict rules about what to eat and when. It’s more of a way of life, as its origins lie in how the inhabitants of countries along the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, live. The main tenet of the Mediterranean diet is simply loading up on plant-based foods because these areas are so lush. Food staples in the Mediterranean diet include plenty of produce, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds — and of course, extra virgin olive oil.

Here’s how to use the Mediterranean diet for long-term weight loss.

Why the Mediterranean diet may help you lose weight

The Mediterranean diet can help you lose weight for a few reasons — namely that you’re getting all the benefits of a largely plant-based diet, which can lead to weight loss; limiting processed foods; eating foods known to make you feel full longer; making long-term lifestyle changes and not restricting yourself or focusing on what you’re not having.

Whole grains and legumes fill you up

There’s no 2000s Atkins mentality here! Grains are building block of the Mediterranean diet, which can in fact lead to weight loss. A 2017 study of 50 adults in the journal Gut found that when eating whole grains, they ate fewer calories and lost weight, indicating that whole grains may be more filling and help you eat less.

Beans are also one of the main sources of protein on the Mediterranean diet, and research has also shown that eating them or other legumes can lead to weight loss, even when you’re not deliberately eating fewer calories, because they’re likely more filling.

You’ll load up on produce

Fruits and vegetables are also a big part of the Mediterranean diet, eaten at most if not all meals. Fruits and veggies pack in a lot of water and fiber and are low in calories, so you can eat basically as much as you want. Eating more vegetables can prevent weight gain or even lead to loss, research has shown.

Pasta can be enjoyed in moderation

What kind of diet allows pasta? One that you can happily stay on for the rest of your life. The Mediterranean diet includes pasta in small portions topped with other common, nutritious foods in the eating plans, such as vegetables, olive oil and seafood. This approach helps you feel more full than even a large plate of buttered noodles, includes important nutrients, and perhaps most importantly doesn’t make you feel like you’re going without.

You will limit sugar and processed food

Sugary drinks, like soda, aren’t a part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Sugary beverages are strongly linked to weight gain and replacing them with water can reduce your overall calorie intake and promote weight loss.

Eating whole foods over processed ones is another reason the Mediterranean diet may help you reach a healthier weight. In one small randomized study that compared the two eating patterns, closely matching calories, protein, fat, carbs, sugar and fiber in both diets, participants ate an extra 500 calories a day on the processed-food diet. The extra calorie intake resulted in an average two-pound weight gain over the two-week study period. However, those same people ate less and lost a couple of pounds, on average, when following the whole-foods diet over a separate two-week period.

A Mediterranean diet food list

The Mediterranean diet is a flexible plan (read: nothing is off-limits), but it focuses on whole foods, mostly plants. Here’s an idea of what you’ll eat:

  • Fruits and vegetables, which are a main focus of meals.
  • Plant-based fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados and nuts.
  • Protein from legumes (legumes, beans and peas), seafood (ideally twice a week), poultry, eggs and Greek yogurt.
  • Whole grains like quinoa, oats, millet and farro, plus pasta (whether refined or whole).

Wine is a feature of the Mediterranean diet, and a glass is regularly consumed with meals. Though everything is included on the Mediterranean diet, sweets and red meat are eaten less often. For the sake of guidance, these foods are eaten about twice a month.

How to follow the Mediterranean diet for weight loss

The only thing you need to do to get started is to get organized and plan your menu. Here are some pointers:

  • Choose two breakfasts. Most people are used to eating breakfasts on repeat, so the only change here might be the type of breakfast you’re eating. Easy Mediterranean diet options include oatmeal, Greek yogurt and eggs. Be sure you’re eating fruits, veggies or a mix of both at breakfast.
  • Decide on two to three easy lunches and dinners. When you limit your options, you also narrow the number of ingredients you need to buy and the number of meals you need to cook. Using this strategy, you’ll make efficient use of your kitchen time, enjoy some variety, and get some nights off by incorporating leftovers. Each week, you can select different things to make so your menu continues to feel exciting and enjoyable.
  • Keep foods simple. If you’re a less experienced cook, choose low-fuss ingredients, like salad greens, frozen veggies, eggs, canned tuna and canned or boxed legumes (such as chickpeas and steamed lentils). Simple whole-grain options include quinoa, brown rice and oats.
  • Prepare your snacks. Whether you’re prepping them in advance or making them on demand, replace packaged snacks with whole-food snacks. Fast options include a piece of fruit with nuts or sliced veggies with hummus or olive tapenade.
  • Focus on the enjoyment of food. No food is forbidden on a Mediterranean diet. Instead, food is appreciated, and meals are designed to be enjoyed. This factor is often missing on weight-loss plans but is an important part of building a healthy relationship with food and sustainable eating habits.

Using the Mediterranean diet for weight loss means letting go of strict rules

When you think of the word diet, you might think of following a particular plan with a set of rules. These plans are alluring because they often promise quick weight loss, and they offer a set of food rules that can make your weight-loss journey feel less overwhelming in the short term. The flexibility of the Mediterranean diet is a big strength, but if you need a lot of structure or are feeling overwhelmed by deciding what to eat, then it might feel challenging at first.

If you’re used to eating a typical American diet with heavily processed food, fast food and sweets, it might feel drastic to replace your usual eating habits with mostly whole, plant-based foods. Plus, if your cooking skills are limited, you might not feel equipped to prep and cook Mediterranean-style meals.

You can overcome these drawbacks by working some Mediterranean diet recipes into your meal planning until you get the hang of it.

Mediterranean diet recipes

More about the Mediterranean diet