What Foods Are Not Allowed on the Mediterranean Diet? [Definitive Guide]

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The Mediterranean diet is a diet that follows what people traditionally ate in Mediterranean countries. 

It is more of a lifestyle change than a list of foods that you must strictly avoid. In that sense, there aren’t any foods that are forbidden.

However, it does emphasize certain foods over others, primarily focusing on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean protein and fatty fish. These are foods with lots of studies to back up eating them for heart health.

Below are a list of foods and ingredients that are typically limited or consumed in moderation on a Mediterranean diet. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but gives you an idea of what you should generally avoid or limit.

Foods to Avoid on the Mediterranean Diet

Refined Grains

Refined grains are discouraged on the Mediterranean diet and whole grains are encouraged instead.

This is because when grains are refined, the bran and germ are removed. This strips away many essential nutrients and fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Although some refined grains are enriched (with vitamins and minerals added back after processing), they still lack the natural fiber and healthy fats in whole grains.

They can also cause higher spikes in blood sugar due to their low glycemic index, which can contribute to issues such as insulin resistance and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

A list of refined grains includes:

  1. White rice
  2. White flour products
  3. White bread
  4. Regular (white) pasta
  5. Many breakfast cereals (often have high sugar)
  6. Crackers (made from white flour)
  7. Pastries and baked goods
  8. Pretzels
  9. Instant oats

Processed Meats

Processed meats often contain preservatives, such as nitrates and nitrites, with some evidence suggesting that these compounds can form carcinogenic substances called nitrosamines when ingested.

They are also usually higher in salt, which is linked to hypertension (high blood sugar) and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Many processed meats are also high in saturated fats, which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

A list of processed meats includes:

  1. Bacon (regular and turkey bacon)
  2. Sausages (including breakfast sausages, bratwurst, Italian sausages etc)
  3. Hot Dogs (regardless of the meat source)
  4. Salami (various types, such as Genoa or hard salami)
  5. Canned Meats (like SPAM or canned ham)
  6. Prosciutto (though sometimes consumed in moderation in Mediterranean regions, it’s still a processed meat)
  7. Ham (especially the cured and salted versions)
  8. Chorizo (similar to prosciutto in that it is often consumed in Mediterranean regions, but it’s still processed)
  9. Pâtés and meat-based spreads
  10. Pepperoni
  11. Bologna
  12. Corned Beef
  13. Pastrami

Processed Foods

Many processed foods contain high levels of added sugars and salt, which can contribute to health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.

They can also contain artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, which may have long-term impacts. Some also contain things like hydrogenated oils, which are sources of harmful trans fats.

Examples include:

  1. Sugary Cereals
  2. Packaged Snacks (such as chips, pretzels)
  3. Instant Noodles
  4. Frozen Dinners (especially those high in salt and additives).
  5. Processed Meats (including sausages, hot dogs, and certain deli meats).
  6. Canned Soups (particularly those with high sodium content).
  7. Candy and Confectionery (from chocolate bars to gummy candies).
  8. Pastries (such as store-bought pies, cakes, and cookies).
  9. Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes
  10. Pre-made Sauces and Gravies (these can contain high levels of salt, sugar, and artificial ingredients).
  11. Pre-packaged Bread and Bakery Items: Especially those with high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and preservatives.

Refined Sugars and Sweets

Sugars and sweets can cause multiple issues with regards to your health.

Firstly, refined sugars are empty calories, meaning they contribute a significant number of calories without offering essential nutrients.

High consumption of refined sugars has been associated with a higher risk of various health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Refined sugars are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, leading to rapid spikes in blood sugar. This can result in subsequent sharp drops, leading to energy crashes and cravings. This can lead to overweight and extra issues surrounding weight gain and obesity.

Examples include:

  1. Table Sugar (often found in sugar bowls or used in baking)
  2. High Fructose Corn Syrup (commonly used in sodas and many processed foods)
  3. Candy (Including hard candies, chocolate bars, gummies, and more)
  4. Sugary Cereals (especially those marketed to children, which can have more added sugar)
  5. Pastries (such as doughnuts, croissants, and muffins).
  6. Sugary Drinks (Sodas, sweetened teas, and even fruit juices)
  7. Ice Cream and Some Frozen Desserts
  8. Jellies and Jams (especially those made with added sugars)
  9. Sweetened Yogurts (some varieties have significant amounts of added sugar, particularly flavored ones)
  10. Honey, Molasses, and Agave Nectar (though natural, they’re still high in sugar and should be consumed in moderation)
  11. Cookies
  12. Cakes

It’s worth noting that natural sweetness from sources like fruits is allowed. This is because they contain other nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals, meaning they aren’t empty calories.

They also have high satiety, meaning you stay full for much longer. This means it’s challenging to get excessive amounts of sugar fructose from fruit.

Overall, many studies find that eating fruit has a wide variety of health benefits, and as part of a balanced diet, should be encouraged.


Chronic excessive alcohol intake is a primary cause of liver diseases, including alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver, and cirrhosis.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also be detrimental to cardiovascular health, leading to issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other conditions.

Another issue with drinking alcohol is that it is calorie-dense and excessive consumption can contribute to weight gain. This comes with health risks.

Although the Mediterranean diet does (you can check our more in-detail review about the Mediterranean diet and red wine here).

Refined, Processed, or Hydrogenated Oils 

Hydrogenated oils contain trans fats, which have been shown to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, potentially leading to heart disease.

Trans fats also reduce levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which compounds their negative effects on heart health.

Many refined oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids. An imbalanced ratio, leaning heavily toward omega-6, may promote inflammation in the body.

Examples include:

  1. Partially Hydrogenated Oils (any oil that’s labeled as “partially hydrogenated” will contain trans fats).
  2. Corn Oil (commonly refined and has a high omega-6 content).
  3. Soybean Oil (frequently found in processed foods and also has a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio).
  4. Sunflower Oil (unless it’s a high-oleic variety, standard sunflower oil is high in omega-6).
  5. Safflower Oil (similar to sunflower oil in its fatty acid composition).
  6. Grapeseed Oil (high in omega-6 fatty acids).
  7. Cottonseed Oil (often found in processed foods and fried foods).
  8. Canola Oil (while it can be a part of a balanced diet in its cold-pressed form, many commercial varieties are highly refined).
  9. Margarine

Olive oil is preferred over butter in the Mediterranean diet, being the most commonly used cooking oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the best quality and healthiest olive oil to choose and is the least processed.

Deep-Fried Foods

Deep frying submerges food in oil, leading to a significant increase in calorie content.

High frying temperatures can cause the formation of potentially harmful compounds, such as acrylamide in starchy foods, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

Examples of fried foods include:

  1. French Fries (especially those from fast-food chains).
  2. Fried Chicken (including drumsticks, wings, and nuggets).
  3. Fried Fish or Fish Sticks (especially if breaded).
  4. Mozzarella Sticks (breaded and deep-fried cheese sticks).
  5. Onion Rings (Slices of onions coated in batter and fried).
  6. Fritters (various types, from corn to apple).
  7. Samosas (a fried pastry with savory fillings, often found in Indian cuisine).
  8. Chips (this includes potato chips, tortilla chips, and others, though there are baking alternatives).
  9. Churros (a sweet and crunchy deep-fried pastry, often covered in sugar).
  10. Doughnuts
  11. Spring Rolls or Egg Rolls

Foods to Limit on the Mediterranean Diet

Red Meat

Red meat isn’t completely avoided but is generally limited to a few portions a month at most.

This is because red meats, especially fatty cuts and processed forms, is a significant source of saturated fats. High intake of these fats is associated with increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which can heighten the risk of heart disease.

However, red meat can also be very nutritious. In particular, it is a great source of iron and other vitamins and minerals, as well as protein – hence why it isn’t completely avoided.

Examples include:

  1. Beef (including cuts like ribeye, sirloin, T-bone, filet mignon, and ground beef).
  2. Pork
  3. Lamb
  4. Veal
  5. Goat
  6. Game Meats (including venison, bison and elk).

High-Fat Dairy

High-fat dairy is again limited due to the higher amounts of saturated fat. Generally, low-fat dairy is used instead.

However, lots of dairy foods can be nutritious, containing lots of vitamins like calcium as well as protein.

To Sum Up

Generally you should be looking out for foods with lots of trans fats, saturated fats, salt and sugar.

These are the types of foods that when eaten in large quantities, can cause health problems over the long-term.

It’s worth noting that although there are many types of foods that you should generally avoid, you should remember that the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle, not a rigid set of guidelines.

As long as you don’t make it a habit, you can enjoy any of the foods listed above as a treat.