Monthly Health Message:

Mediterranean Diet: Nine Staple Foods

November 2016

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Eating a Mediterranean diet may lower your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and death by up to 30 percent, according to a highly publicized study done in Spain and published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Help your heart and overall health by adding the following key foods which were staples of those following the Mediterranean eating plan.

  1. Olive Oil—The study participants’ main fat was olive oil—they ate 4 or more tablespoons of this oil daily, which is rich in monounsaturated fats. (Conversely, they ate less than 1 serving per day of saturated-fat-rich butter or cream.) Make olive oil your primary “fat” for cooking, salads, and baking.
  2. Nuts—Study participants ate 3 or more servings of nuts (including peanuts) weekly They were encouraged to eat a daily serving of mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts) for an afternoon snack (small is equal to 1/3 cup). Remember that nuts are calorie-dense, so eat small amounts. Sprinkle them on top of your favorite yogurt or a salad.
  3. Fish—Mediterranean-diet followers ate 3-plus servings of fish or shellfish weekly. Aim to add fish of any kind; just don’t fry it. Bake or grill it instead. Eat salmon or tuna which are rich in heart-healthy, omega-3 fats, weekly.
  4. Legumes—Study participants reported eating 3 or more servings of legumes each week. Legumes include beans, peas and lentils which are all good meat replacers and as a vegetarian source of protein. But they also can count as a vegetable because they deliver fiber and nutrients, such as folate and potassium that you would find in other vegetables.
  5. Fresh Fruits—Diet followers consumed 3-plus fruit servings daily. If you’re going to drink 100 percent juice to increase your fruit intake, try and cap it at 6 ounces daily. Otherwise, add fresh, frozen or canned fruit, packed in its own juice, to your diet in many ways. Try adding it to a salad or oatmeal, top your yogurt with fruit or just snack on it plain.
  6. Fresh Vegetables-Study participants reported eating 2 or more servings of vegetables each day along with at least one serving of raw vegetables or a salad. Try adding vegetables to an omelet or have a bowl of vegetable soup or a salad for lunch or dinner.
  7. Sofrito—This is a sauce made with tomato and onion and often includes garlic and herbs. It is slowly simmered with olive oil and is typically used to season vegetables, pasta and rice. Mediterranean diet followers said they ate sofrito two or more times each week.
  8. White Meat—In this Mediterranean diet study, subjects weren’t told how much meat to eat but were simply encouraged to eat white meat, instead of red meat, such as chicken or turkey breast instead of veal, pork, hamburger or sausage. And along those lines, participants reported eating less than one serving daily of red meat, hamburger or “meat product,” such as ham, sausage, etc.
  9. Wine—Mediterranean-diet followers consume wine with meals. Study participants who habitually drank alcohol reported drinking seven (or more) glasses of red or white wine per week, or about one drink a day.

Try the Mediterranean eating plan for its’ heart healthy benefits. Remember, taking small steps to add healthy foods to your diet will improve your health.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences