Can I eat dairy on the Mediterranean Diet?

Ever wondered how dairy fits into the healthy Mediterranean Diet? This article has all the answers. Discover how & when to eat yogurt, cheese, and milk on this diet. We'll show you which yogurt is best and why, and how to choose cheese. Learn about dairy-free options too, if that's your preference. 

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Can I eat dairy on the Mediterranean Diet?

This is a great question!

You may know that the Mediterranean diet isn't a strict plan. Rather, it's a way of eating that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and healthy plant-based oil. You have tons of flexibility on what you choose to eat. The flexibility is what Mediterranean Diet devotees LOVE. (You will never get bored!). But this same lack of strict NOs can make it more confusing to get started.

We hope this article helps you get a better idea of how cheese, yogurt, and milk fit into a healthy Mediterranean Diet!

The short answer is YES, you can eat dairy on the Mediterranean Diet. Dairy products such as yogurt and cheese are commonly consumed as part of a Mediterranean lifetime.

However, dairy consumption is generally moderate rather than excessive.
This means rather than having dairy with every meal, you want to include dairy in your diet in moderation. Base your meals around nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Then add cheese and yogurt as an occasional meal or as a condiment to add flavor. 


What Types of Dairy Should I Consider?

Keep reading for some of our recommendation on what types of cheese, yogurt, and milk to choose if you want to follow the Mediterranean Diet!

Should I eat Low-Fat or Full-Fat Yogurt?

It's generally recommended that you choose low-fat or reduced-fat yogurt options. Reducing the saturated fat that you are exposed to can align with the heart health benefits associated with the Mediterranean Diet. If heart heath factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol are not a concern for you, you may choose high fat yogurt. Some people find that the higher fat content can help them stay full longer and feel more satisfied.

Is Sweetened Yogurt ok on the Mediterranean Diet?

For everyone, we recommend choosing unsweetened yogurt. This is to minimize the amount of added sugar that you are consuming regularly. Virtually all of us consume too much sugar, and it puts us at risk for a huge range of health ailments.


So rather than buying, for example, “strawberry flavored yogurt”, buy plain unsweetened yogurt and add real strawberries to it. If you prefer it sweeter, add some maple syrup or honey. Generally, you will add less sugar if you are adding it yourself than if you buy it presweetened. Some processed, flavored yogurt also use unhealthy sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup. You are far better adding some real, naturally honey yourself!

Should I Eat Greek Yogurt or Regular Yogurt?

Greek yogurt is a great choice, especially if it’s the plain, unsweetened kind. Greek yogurt is high in protein, calcium, and probiotics, making it beneficial for supporting overall health and gut health.

Regular, unsweetened yogurt is fine for your Mediterranean Diet too. There are a few differences to consider. Greek yogurt is thicker, higher in protein, and lower in carbohydrates and sugars compared to regular yogurt.

Greek yogurt and regular yogurt are made using a similar process: fermenting milk with live bacterial cultures. However, after fermentation, Greek yogurt undergoes straining to remove liquid whey, which gives it its thick texture and higher protein content. Regular yogurt is not typically strained to the same extent, so it retains more of its liquid content remains. You will find that regular yogurt tends to have more carbohydrates and naturally-occurring sugars.

Both types of yogurts can be nutritious options. Greek yogurt is often preferred for its thicker texture and higher protein content, especially when consuming a nutrient-dense Mediterranean Diet.

(Here's an example of using dairy as part of breakfast.)

What Types of Cheese Should I Choose for the Mediterranean Diet?

Unprocessed is Best!

We believe that the most important consideration when choosing cheese is to select something unprocessed. That means, as much as possible, limit your intake of highly-processed cheeses like American or Velveeta. This will offer you significant health benefits.

First, unprocessed cheeses have lower levels of additives commonly found in processed cheeses, such as stabilizers, emulsifiers, and preservatives. This makes them a more natural and wholesome choice, contributing to a diet that prioritizes nutrient density and overall health.

Second, unprocessed cheeses retain more of their natural nutrients compared to highly processed varieties. They are a valuable source of essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and phosphorus.

Third, many processed cheeses, especially those with added flavorings or in processed foods like cheese spreads, can be high in sodium. Unprocessed cheeses generally have lower sodium levels, making them a healthier option, especially for those watching their sodium intake.

(If you want to learn more about WHY to avoid processed foods or what other foods to avoid on the Mediterranean Diet, read this article.)

Some Varieties of Cheese that We Love:

Here are some types of cheese that would make a delicious addition to your cuisine.

Feta Cheese: Feta cheese is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine. It's a tangy and salty cheese made from sheep's milk or a combination of sheep's and goat's milk. Feta is lower in calories and fat compared to some other cheeses, making it a good option for the Mediterranean Diet.

Goat Cheese: Goat cheese is another popular choice & one we love. It has a distinct flavor that adds a creamy and tangy element to dishes. Goat cheese is often lower in fat and calories than cow's milk cheese, making it a lighter option.

Parmesan Cheese: Parmesan cheese is a hard, aged cheese that's rich in flavor. You can grate it right onto your food! It's used in moderation in Mediterranean cuisine to add a savory and nutty taste to dishes like pasta, salads, and soups. Despite its strong flavor, Parmesan cheese is relatively low in saturated fat compared to some other cheeses.

Mozzarella Cheese: Fresh mozzarella cheese can be a good choice for the Mediterranean Diet. We especially love the low-moisture variety. It's lower in fat and calories compared to aged cheeses and is often used in salads, pizzas, and sandwiches.

Ricotta Cheese: Ricotta cheese is a soft, creamy cheese that's commonly used in dishes like stuffed pastas and desserts. We recommend that you choose part-skim or low-fat ricotta to reduce the saturated fat content. The taste is virtually the same.

What Type of Milk Should I Drink on the Mediterranean Diet?

People in the Mediterranean generally do not drink cows’ milk by the glass, as we sometimes do in America. Cows’ milk can be a nutritious option, especially if you choose skim or low-fat milk. We recommend that you limit your intake to a few times per week, rather than every day. You can also alternate your dairy milk with other kinds of non-dairy “milk”.

Here’s how the different types of milk on the market stack up:

Cow's Milk: Traditional cow's milk is a common choice and provides a good source of calcium, protein, and vitamins like vitamin D and B12. We recommend drinking it a few times per week or less. Choose low-fat or skim milk if you're watching your saturated fat intake.

Almond Milk: Almond milk is a popular dairy-free alternative that is low in calories and contains no saturated fat. It's often fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients, making it a great choice for those avoiding dairy. Choose unsweetened varieties to avoid that added sugar.

Soy Milk: Soy milk is another dairy-free option that provides a comparable amount of protein to cow's milk. It's also fortified with calcium and vitamin D, making it a nutritious choice for those following a plant-based diet. Watch out for added sugar.

Oat Milk: Oat milk is a creamy alternative to cow's milk that is quickly gaining popularity. It's naturally free of lactose and cholesterol, and many brands fortify it with vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin D.

Rice Milk: Rice milk is another dairy-free option, but it's lower in protein compared to cow's milk and soy milk. It's often fortified with calcium and vitamin D but may not be as nutrient-dense as other milk alternatives.

Can I Eat Butter on the Mediterranean Diet?

The diet emphasizes healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds, which are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. In fact, one easy way to start to improve your health is to replace the butter (and highly processed oils you consume like canola oil and vegetable oil) with heart-healthy olive oil! (Learn more about heart healthy oils here.) 

That said, butter is also used sparingly for flavor in certain Mediterranean dishes. A great rule of thumb is to try swapping your butter for something else, but if it is really needed for flavor, add it in small amounts.

Other heart-healthy oils to consider when olive oil won’t work are walnut oil and avocado oil. Avocado oil is a versatile cooking oil with a high smoke point, making it suitable for a variety of cooking methods, including sautéing, frying, roasting, and grilling. Walnut oil has a nutty flavor that is delicious in baked goods. It has a lower smoke point compared to some other cooking oils, so it's best used at lower to medium heat to preserve its flavor and nutrition.

(Our favorite Avocado Oil can be found here. We recommend this Walnut Oil for baking.) 

What about Eggs?

This is such a common misconception. I’m not sure if people associate eggs with dairy because the two are often consumed together or in the same meal, but let me set the record straight: eggs are not considered dairy products.

Dairy refers to products derived from milk, such as milk itself, cheese, yogurt, and butter. Eggs, on the other hand, come from birds, are classified as animal products rather than dairy.

Animal products are eaten in moderation on the Mediterranean Diet. So you would want to include eggs a few times per week or less. You can choose egg whites if you are watching your saturated fat intake.  

(An egg breakfast we love can be found here.) 

Finally, Do I have to eat Dairy on the Mediterranean Diet?

If you are lactose intolerant, vegan, or sensitive to dairy, this question might be top of mind! Happily, eating dairy like yogurt, milk, or cheese is NOT a strict requirement for the Mediterranean Diet.

While yogurt and cheese are commonly consumed in moderation, they are not essential for following the diet. The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes a balance of whole, minimally processed foods, with a focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, healthy fats (such as olive oil), herbs, and spices.

If you choose not to include dairy in your Mediterranean Diet, you can still enjoy nutritious and flavorful meals by incorporating alternative sources of protein, calcium, and other nutrients. Plant-based foods like legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and fortified plant milks (such as almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk) can provide these nutrients.

If you want to follow a Mediterranean Diet but you don’t consume dairy, give our DAIRY-FREE MEDITERRANEAN DIET MEAL PLANS a try!

This is the ideal meal plan for Dairy Free families looking to live a Mediterranean-inspired lifestyle. Plenty of produce, olive oil, whole grains, seafood, and great food will have you looking and feeling your best! No milk, cheese, butter, or dairy of any kind.

Our meal plans are one month, including 3 daily meals and optional snacks. Each plan includes a grocery list (so no more wasted food). They are balanced at a macronutrient level, full of fiber & vitamins, and low in sodium. Our meal plans are available via digital download (so no waiting!)

Check out some of our favorite dairy-free recipes at this link

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