By now, you probably know just how great the Mediterranean diet is. It consistently ranks among the top diets to follow—perhaps because instead of outlining strict calorie or carb requirements, it’s centered on picking filling, nutritious options. Research has shown that following the diet can lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure, and it might even prolong your life.
But the best part of the Mediterranean diet might be that it allows indulgence: Favorites like eggs, olive oil, and fresh fruits and veggies are all fair game for breakfast. (Can you imagine a better breakfast spread?) Here are the basics of the Mediterranean diet, plus tips and tricks for sticking to it each morning.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
Unlike other diets, which can dictate which types of foods aren’t allowed, this diet is really more a way of life. “The Mediterranean diet is almost rich in everything,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., a New York-based nutrition consultant and author of The Small Change Diet. “We talk about it as a special diet, but it’s basically well-balanced, healthy eating where all foods fit.”
In the Mediterranean diet, certain foods are emphasized and others are limited (but not cut out entirely). Fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds, seafood, whole grains, olive oil, low-fat dairy, poultry, and eggs are the staples of the diet, Gans says.
Limited foods, meanwhile, are the ones that you should probably be avoiding anyway: refined grains and oils, red meat, processed foods, and foods with added sugar. “Red meat, [for example,] isn’t avoided,” Gans explains. “Just eat more fish, poultry, and legumes, and gear your meals more plant-based. Focus less on the saturated fats.”
By loading up on the foods listed above, you’ll get tons of nutrients at every meal. “The Mediterranean diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber, and monounsaturated fats—those are the healthy fats, the nuts, the seeds, the olive oil,” Gans explains. These nutrients may play important roles in reducing the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, “one of the biggest benefits” of the diet, according to Gans.
How to build a healthy Mediterranean breakfast
The laidback nature of the Mediterranean diet is good news for home chefs, but figuring out how to create a healthy breakfast—and sticking to that plan as much as possible—can be a challenge. Thankfully, it’s almost like a game of mixing and matching, depending on your cravings.
“An ideal breakfast would be two slices of 100% whole-grain bread with two scrambled eggs sautéed with some spinach and tomatoes, and maybe a little avocado,” Gans explains. “You’re getting healthy fats, protein from the eggs, and whole grains.”
But Gans emphasizes that you should feel free to experiment with different veggies, fruits, proteins, and basically anything else. If you’re mindful of your ingredients, you can make just about any meal to the standards of the Mediterranean diet.
With the right combination of protein, fiber, and carbs—which you’ll get from all of the staple foods in the diet—Gans says, Mediterranean breakfasts will also keep you feeling full, satisfied, and attentive until lunch. “What’s beautiful about the Mediterranean diet is that you don’t need any fancy formulas, you don’t need any math skills [to count calories],” Gans says. “It’s just common sense.”
Is your stomach growling yet? Make your way through this list, which includes recipes that pack in all of the Mediterranean diet’s top foods. (Spoiler alert: You’re going to see a ton of eggs and veggies, plus staples like olive oil, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and whole-grain bread. Yum!)