How to Eat a Mediterranean Diet

A Mediterranean diet is one that is rich in whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, dietary fiber, vegetable proteins and healthy fats. This way of eating significantly limits processed foods and added sugars. It is also more of a lifestyle, than a diet with strict guidelines around servings, calories, macros or percentages. You will find that following this dietary pattern does not leave you feeling hungry, deprived or highly restricted.

Key takeaways: 

  • Ample research has shown that a Mediterranean diet is the best eating pattern for optimizing natural fertility and ART outcomes
  • A Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle than a strict diet and won’t leave you feeling hungry or deprived
  • The most important food groups in a Mediterranean diet are whole grains, fruits and vegetables, plant based proteins and healthy fats

How does a Mediterranean diet impact fertility?

Research shows that adherence to a Mediterranean diet, or similar dietary patterns, is associated with benefits for both female and male reproductive health and fertility outcomes. The positive impact of this diet has been seen in both pregnancy rates with natural conception, as well as for Assisted Reproductive Technology (e.g., IVF) outcomes.

For women, insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism can significantly affect ovulation and female fertility. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to initiate positive changes in insulin resistance, as well as to decrease metabolic disturbances, and reduce the risk of obesity. Furthermore, research has also shown that adherence to the mediterranean diet can decrease risk for preeclampsia by over 20% in women, leading to an overall healthy pregnancy for mother and baby.

For men, research shows that processed sugar can negatively impact male fertility. This is because sugar impacts insulin resistance and can cause the body to release oxidative stress hormones which negatively influences sperm motility/DNA. The Mediterranean diet is highly effective in helping achieve blood sugar regulation in the body, which can lead to healthy sperm and testosterone levels. 

How do I eat a Mediterranean diet?

Whole grains are a main feature of eating a Mediterranean diet. They contain healthy fats, fiber, protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins & minerals. Examples include:

  • Whole grain bread & crackers
  • Rolled or steel cut oats
  • Whole grain, low sugar breakfast cereals like shredded wheat, muesli, or wheat flakes
  • Popcorn
  • Dried grains: millet, farro, brown rice, quinoa, bulgar, barley

Whole grains are a great addition to all 3 meals. For breakfast, think oatmeal, granola or whole grain cold cereal. For lunch, whole grain bread or tortilla for your sandwich and for dinner, brown rice with your stir fry or quinoa as a side with a protein and roasted vegetables.

Fruits & vegetables are another key component of the Mediterranean diet and are  packed with essential vitamins & minerals, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds & healthy fiber. For every meal, consider how you can add in 1-2 servings of fruits & vegetables in the following ways:

  • Look for fresh, seasonal fruits & vegetables for soups, salads, sandwiches
  • Stock up on canned fruit & vegetables for soups, snacks, salads, sandwiches
  • Fill your freezer with frozen fruits & vegetables for steaming, stir frying, slow cooking, roasting, soups, smoothies

The next category to focus on in this diet are healthy fats, which are unsaturated fats (versus saturated or trans fats), as well as  omega 3 fatty acids. These foods actually help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as reduce inflammation and help support your endocrine system, which plays a major role in creating and releasing fertility hormones (amongst others).

Examples of foods that contains both healthy fats, as well as omega 3 fatty acids, are the following:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Nuts (raw or roasted): almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, peanuts
  • Seeds: flax, chia, hemp, sesame, pumpkin
  • Canned or tinned fish: tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies
  • Fresh or frozen fish: salmon, tuna, mackerel, cod
  • Nut butters

And finally, a Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant based protein (i.e. legumes) as the primary source of lean protein, as well as a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals - especially iron, which is an important nutrient for fertility. You can incorporate these proteins in the the following ways:

  • Hummus for dips, snacking, spreads
  • Canned beans for soups, salads, nachos, tacos, fajitas
  • Frozen peas & edamame
  • Canned beans for soups, salads, other cooked dishes

What should I try to limit or avoid?

The main categories of foods to try and limit or avoid altogether are:

  • Red meat
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Added sugars
  • Processed meat - such as deli meats, bacon, or hot dogs
  • Butter
  • Refined grains - such as white flour, white bread and white rice
  • Other highly processed foods - such as packaged snacks like chips and pretzels, fast foods like french fries and burgers, and high-sugar cereals
  • Beers and liquors

What are some tips to help me stay on track?

  • Start by focusing on what you can add in to your diet versus what you should remove
  • Abide by the “80/20 rule” e.g. 80% of the time prioritize the above foods, 20% of the time give yourself more flexibility
  • “Eat the rainbow” - the more colors (and textures!) on your plate, the better
  • Start your meal with nutrient-dense food, when you are the hungriest
  • Whenever possible, prepare food in advance and find new, easy recipes to keep things interesting, such as the yummy ones from The Minimalist Baker or EatingWell

This is an H4 headline

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

  • This is a list item
  • This is a list item
  • This is a list item

This is an H3 headline

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

This is an H4 headline

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

  • This is a list item
  • This is a list item
  • This is a list item

This is an H2 headline

This is a paragraph with link text.