9 Mediterranean Food All-Stars to Always Keep in Your Kitchen
Stock your pantry, fridge, or freezer with these Mediterranean foods guarantees you'll have an easier time incorporating them into your diet. Here are all the foods that should be on your shopping list—and how to enjoy them.
Mediterranean food: Garbanzo beans
Pulses, a term encompassing all edible seeds of the legume family, are fiber-rich protein sources. Research published in Nutrients found that garbanzo beans, aka chickpeas, have more fiber than most pulses. The “1/2-cup Habit” campaign encouraging inclusion of pulses in your diet at least three times per week has inspired thousands to boost their fiber intake. And, chickpeas contain three times more folate, a vital B-vitamin, than kale! Pulses assist in weight control, too. And, these babies are as versatile as can be. Toss ½ cup into your salad or whip up a quick hummus for spreading on toast or dipping vegetables into. We also like them roasted with spices; dietitian Amy Gorin’s crunchy garbanzo beans will soon be your favorite snack. Check out these other chickpea snacks you’re bound to love.
Mediterranean food: Olive oil
Obviously, olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, but do you know why it’s so good for you? Monounsaturated fats, naturally present in olive oil, reduce risk of heart disease by lowering the bad (LDL) cholesterol levels in blood. Oleocanthal, a phytonutrient in olives, reduces inflammation and has been studied in osteoarthritis, breast cancer, and liver and colon cancers. These healthy fats also play a role in improving blood glucose control for folks with diabetes. Be careful not to overdo it, as all fats are calorie-dense. Replace sugary or salty processed salad dressing with a simple drizzle of olive oil and vinegar. Stir-fry your veggies in olive oil instead of butter or stick margarine. And while you’re at it, check out the benefits of olive oil that have nothing to do with your diet.
Mediterranean food: Farro
Ancient grains are all the rage, and with good reason. Farro, freekeh, quinoa, kamut, teff, and millet are some examples of grains that have literally not changed much in centuries. Super fiber rich and abundant in niacin, magnesium and zinc, farro is a star in this category. With its nutty flavor and chewy texture, farro subs for barley perfectly in soups or chili. Top farro with your stir-fried veggies instead of rice. Farro mixed with berries and a splash of milk makes a nutritious and satisfying breakfast. Simple side dishes with farro and mushrooms, onions or garlic will impress your family. Find out more of our favorite ancient grains.
Mediterranean food: Artichoke hearts
Easy to find marinated in jars or frozen, artichoke hearts are a common ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Artichokes win the prize for the highest amount of antioxidants of their vegetable relatives. What’s more, they are rich in iron and vitamin B12, challenging nutrients for vegetarians to get enough of. With the chronic disease prevention and reduced inflammation benefits, artichokes make a smart choice. Marinated hearts are delicious ingredients atop pizza, tucked into wraps and sandwiches, or in a veggie-based salad. Frozen hearts allow you to add the seasonings and flavors of your choice. Either variety perfectly mixes into a dip for crudités or tossed into pasta dishes. Check out these other healthy and delicious pizza toppings.
Mediterranean food: Salmon
Rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, salmon is the perfect protein to stock in your freezer. Higher EPA and DHA intake reduces inflammation, decreases risk of heart disease, and boosts mood. Pre-packaged fillets are ready for use, or ask your butcher to take a huge steak and cut into pieces for you. This points to a delayed progression to type-2 diabetes. Salmon is delicious grilled, poached or baked with spicy, sweet, savory, or herbal seasonings. Or, buy it already smoked and enjoy it on your breakfast toast. Find out the ways you’ve been cooking your fish completely wrong.
Mediterranean food: Lentils
Found to have the highest protein content of the pulses, lentils also boast high fiber and low fat amounts. Naturally gluten-free, lentils are quick-cooking and ready in significantly less time than regular dry beans. Their low glycemic index contributes to better glucose control in people with diabetes. Try replacing half of the meat in your tacos with cooked green lentils for a fiber boost, lentil soup is delicious on a cold evening, or, simply replace ½ of the oil in your chocolate chip cookie recipe with pureed red lentils. Your kids will never know they’re eating a healthier treat! Find out even more health benefits of beans.
Mediterranean food: Onions
This ever-present vegetable wins as a top pick for health benefits. Onions are naturally low in calories, but high in antioxidants. Research shows that all colors are nutritious, but you’ll find the highest flavonoids and antioxidants in the Western yellow onion. Multiple studies show the entire allium family, including shallots and garlic, prevents certain cancers. My favorite trick to easily including onion in my family’s meals involves chopping about five pounds of onions with a food processor, and then freezing them into small sealed plastic bags. They’re ready to go in soups, pastas, stir-fries, tacos, and omelets. Fresh onions are the perfect match for a burger or sandwich. Here’s how you can prevent tears the next time you chop an onion.
Mediterranean food: Almonds
Nuts are key ingredients in the Mediterranean diet. One of the top nut picks are almonds, shown to improve weight and blood pressure, lipid and glucose levels, and memory. Deliciously versatile, almonds can be snacked on plain or sprinkled atop a Greek yogurt parfait or tossed into a stir-fry. Almond milk maintains most of the nutrients in the plain nuts themselves, so use it in fruit smoothies, coffee drinks and with whole grain cereals. Here’s a list of the top five healthiest nuts.
Mediterranean food: Dates
Fewer folks are eating dried fruits, foundational in the Mediterranean diet, because of their reputation for higher calorie content than fresh fruits. While this is true, there are significant health benefits associated with dried fruits, including better blood glucose and lipid levels. Dates, in particular, are incredibly rich in calcium and magnesium, both vital for bone health. Dates contain the antioxidant lutein-zeaxanthin, proven to enhance eye health for people at risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Snack on dates straight out of the package, or chop them up to include in your breakfast smoothie. Puree dates with a little water, and use as a healthier swap for some of the sugar in your favorite baked recipes.