Mediterranean Diet Coffee: Is It Healthy To Drink?

Mediterranean diet coffee is a combination of the two pillars in Mediterranean culture – The Mediterranean diet and coffee. 

The Mediterranean diet has been growing in popularity and is well known for its benefits related to heart health. It is based on the eating patterns of countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea and focuses on eating whole, plant-based foods and fresh produce.

Coffee plays a significant role in the culture of many countries around the world. When you think of some of the countries or the Mediterranean region that inspire this way of eating – Italy, Greece, France, Spain, Turkey etc. – coffee may also come to mind. Cafes and the coffee they serve are a great part of the unique culture of these countries and countless others.

For many, coffee is part of their daily routine. Some people are unable to start their day without it, while others drink it more during social settings. Regardless, coffee is a staple around the world, and chances are, you enjoy it too.

So, with all that being said, let’s see what role coffee plays in the Mediterranean diet.

Top Takeaways

  • The Mediterranean diet promotes heart health through whole, plant-based foods and lean proteins.
  • Coffee, a significant part of Mediterranean culture, complements the diet with antioxidants and potential health benefits.
  • Coffee should be consumed in moderation to avoid potential drawbacks like sleep disturbances and anxiety.
  • Tips for Mindful Consumption: To integrate coffee into the Mediterranean diet, choose black coffee or use low-fat dairy options and natural sweeteners. Drink it in moderation, balance with water, and enjoy it with a balanced Mediterranean meal.

The Health Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet  

The key principles of the Mediterranean diet are:

  • Emphasizing whole foods and food groups like fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • Incorporating healthy fats like olive oil and lean proteins like fish and poultry.
  • Consuming dairy products and red wine in moderation.
  • Limiting red meat and processed foods. 

Eating this way has numerous health benefits and a good option for overall health. 

Heart Disease and Stroke

Following the Mediterranean diet may help to reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke and is a popular heart healthy diet.  

It limits saturated fat, which is found in red meats, butter and dairy, and instead incorporates more unsaturated fats found in foods like olive oil and avocado. This can help to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol.

If these are new terms for you, here is a quick overview:

LDL cholesterol can be considered the “bad” cholesterol because it can build up in the arteries and increase the risk for heart disease and stroke. This is because the build up narrows the arteries (a condition called atherosclerosis) which puts strain on the heart, making it work harder to do its job of pumping blood through the body.

On the other hand, HDL cholesterol is considered to be the “good” cholesterol and actually helps to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. It does this by helping to remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries, preventing it from building up.

Eating foods containing unsaturated fat like olive oil, avocadoes, nuts and seeds can help to increase HDL cholesterol and therefore unclog the arteries to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

The Mediterranean diet may also help to lower blood pressure since it limits processed foods that are often high in sodium. Eating high amounts of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Limiting sodium may help to lower blood pressure and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease.


The Mediterranean diet helps to reduce other chronic diseases like the risk of diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels. This is due to limiting foods high in added sugar and instead eating complex carbohydrates like whole grains, and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.

Insulin is the hormone that is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. When the sugar, called glucose, from the foods you eat enters your blood, insulin is released from the pancreas to help lower blood sugar levels by moving the glucose into body cells where it will be used.

When a lot of sugar enters the blood at once (a spike in blood sugar), more insulin is released. Overtime, this can cause insulin resistance to occur, which is when the cells no longer effectively respond to insulin. This means blood sugar levels will remain high despite insulin being released and can eventually lead to diabetes.

Foods high in added sugar can cause spikes in blood sugar levels whereas complex carbohydrates cause a more gradual increase in blood sugar because they take longer to be broken down. Since the Mediterranean diet includes more complex carbohydrates and is low in added sugar, it may help to lower the risk for diabetes.

Weight Management

The Mediterranean diet includes foods that are high in fiber, which can help with weight management. Fiber helps to slow down digestion, which can keep you feeling fuller for longer, helping to prevent overeating.

It also limits highly processed foods high in added sugar, sodium and trans fats which can contribute to weight gain.

Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Compounds

The Mediterranean diet includes many foods that are rich in antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds.

Antioxidants are needed to prevent a state of oxidative stress from occurring. This can occur when there are more free radicals than antioxidants in the body.

Free radicals are compounds that are highly reactive and can cause damage to cells and molecules in the body. They occur naturally from different metabolic reactions that take place in the body, but can also form due to exposure to external sources like cigarette smoke and pollution.

Oxidative stress can increase the risk for diseases including, but not limited to, diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart disease, inflammation and high blood pressure. 

Antioxidants help to protect body cells from free radicals and prevent damage from occurring.

Foods that contain antioxidants and are found in the Mediterranean diet include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, olive oil, tea and, as you may have expected – coffee.

Coffee – The Beverage of Choice

It is said that coffee was first discovered as early as the 9th century in Ethiopia, by a goat herder who noticed the effects that the berries had on his goats.

It then made its way to the Arabian Peninsula in the 15th century and by the 17th century had found its way to Europe, followed by America.

Now, coffee has become a staple all across the world and is the beverage of choice in many cultures.

Key Components of Coffee

One of the main components of coffee is caffeine. For some people, this is the main reason they consume coffee.

Caffeine is a stimulant that acts on the brain and central nervous system to keep you awake and alert. Aside from its stimulatory effects, caffeine has other potential health benefits that will be discussed shortly.

Coffee is also an excellent source of antioxidants which help to prevent damage that can be caused by free radicals. The main group of antioxidants found in coffee are called polyphenols.

Health Benefits of Coffee Consumption

Enhanced Cognitive Function and Alertness

Caffeine is responsible for the alertness associated with drinking coffee. Caffeine is able to prevent the neurotransmitter adenosine from exerting its effects on the brain. Normally, adenosine would build up throughout the day and bind to its receptors in the brain to cause you to feel tired. By blocking adenosine from binding to the receptors, caffeine can help to decrease and prevent this feeling of tiredness from occurring (1) .

Protection Against Neurodegenerative Diseases

It has been suggested that drinking coffee can potentially help protect against cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease (2) and Parkinson’s disease (3). Similar to the MIND diet

However, the exact reasoning is unclear and more research in the area is still needed.

Antioxidant Properties and Anti-Inflammatory Effects

As was mentioned earlier, the antioxidants in coffee (polyphenols) are important for preventing damage from oxidative stress that is caused by excess free radicals.

Polyphenols are compounds that are found in many plant-based food sources. Eating a diet high in polyphenols can help to reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

It has also been suggested that polyphenols can have anti-inflammatory effects, which further decreases the risk for these diseases (4).

Weight Loss 

It has been suggested that consuming caffeine can help to increase metabolism, which may help with weight loss (5).

The term metabolism refers to the chemical reactions that are taking place in your body to convert the food you consume into energy that the body can use.

Even when at rest, your body still needs energy for different functions to occur. The rate of metabolism at rest is referred to as the basal metabolic rate (BMR). Someone with a faster BMR will burn more calories at rest when compared to someone with a slower BMR.

Therefore, an increase in metabolism (and BMR) can help to promote weight loss when combined with other healthy lifestyle choices.

Reduced Risk of Diabetes

It has been observed that people who drink coffee may have a reduced risk for developing type 2 diabetes. More research is needed in the area, however it has been suggested that it may be due to the compound cafestol that is found in coffee (6).

Image of Veronica Rouse with Free 7 day heart healthy meal plan freebie.

As previously mentioned, coffee plays a significant role in the culture and eating patterns of the countries that the Mediterranean diet is based on.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating whole, plant-based foods, many of which are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. 

In addition to all of these antioxidant-rich foods, you have now learned that coffee contains antioxidants, and therefore also fits well into the Mediterranean diet.

Moderation and Mindfulness – Finding the Balance

Another key component of the Mediterranean diet is balance and moderation. Having variety and balance with the foods you choose to eat is important. As with other foods, it is important to consume coffee in moderation to get the most out of its benefits – more is not always better.

Potential Drawbacks of Mediterranean Diet Coffee

Consuming coffee in moderation is important to avoid excessive coffee consumption and the potential negative drawbacks associated with it.

Sleep Disturbances and Increased Anxiety

Caffeine’s ability to keep us awake and alert is often the reason for drinking coffee. However, having too much caffeine can potentially disturb sleep and induce symptoms of anxiety.

Caffeine stimulates the release of adrenaline, which is the hormone responsible for the “fight-or-flight” stress response. This response increases heart rate, blood pressure and causes you to become more alert and aware. When consumed in excess, it can increase these symptoms and cause restlessness.

Furthermore, too much caffeine, or consuming it too late in the day, can make it difficult to fall asleep. It has been suggested to avoid caffeine within 6 hours of going to sleep (7).

High Calorie Content 

When discussing the health benefits of coffee, it is important to note that we are not referring to the coffee drinks that have a lot of added sugar, coffee creamers or toppings like whipped cream and syrups.

Adding these to your coffee will greatly increase the calorie, fat and sugar content, negating some of the coffee’s benefits. Be mindful of what and how much you are adding to your coffee and try to limit toppings that are high in sugar.

Later in this article there will be some recommendations for how to make your coffee more heart healthy! 

GERD and Gastritis

Excessive consumption of caffeine may increase the symptoms of GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) for some people (8). This is because caffeine can relax the sphincter that separates the esophagus and the stomach. This sphincter normally prevents the acidic contents of the stomach from rising into the esophagus to prevent “heartburn”. With it relaxed, heartburn may occur, which is the main symptom of GERD.

Gastritis refers to the inflammation of the stomach lining. Some people may also find that too much caffeine can worsen gastritis.

High Blood Pressure

Too much caffeine may also raise blood pressure, which was mentioned earlier as part of the “fight-or-flight” or stress response.

Withdrawal Symptoms 

If you become used to drinking a lot of caffeine every day, you may become dependent on it. Then, if you go without it, or drastically decrease the amount you consume, it may result in withdrawal symptoms including headaches and irritability.

The Mediterranean Diet Coffee Guidelines 

The recommended daily maximum amount of caffeine that can be safely consumed by adults (18 and over) is approximately 400 mg (9).

The amount of caffeine in coffee varies depending on the type, but a typical 1 cup serving of brewed coffee will have around 135 mg of caffeine (10) 

It is important to note that individual differences in tolerance and preference will play a role in how our bodies react to different amounts of coffee and caffeine.

I would encourage you to consult a healthcare professional for more personalized advice based on your current needs, especially if you experience any of the mentioned symptoms associated with excess caffeine consumption.

Tips for Mindful Coffee Consumption

Eating the Mediterranean way is all about moderation.  The Mediterranean diet and coffee consumption is no different.  Read on how to make Mediterranean diet coffee. 

How to Integrate Coffee Into the Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean coffee can be incorporated into your routine with the following tips

  • Consider drinking black coffee rather than coffee with sugary additives and sweeteners.
  • Balance coffee intake with water intake.
  • Choose a smaller sized cup to consume coffee in moderation.
  • Drink your coffee with a balanced meal that also follows the Mediterranean diet.
  • Share the experience of drinking coffee with others.
  • Consider drinking decaf coffee, especially later in the day.
  • Add chia seeds to your coffee!

Making Your Mediterranean Coffee

  • To flavor your coffee try using cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa, turmeric, cardamom or vanilla extract to avoid using flavored syrups.
  • Try using skim milk, 1% milk, almond milk, soy milk, evaporated milk or non-fat milk powder instead of heavy creamers.
  • To sweeten your coffee try using natural sweeteners like honey, brown sugar, stevia, molasses, maple syrup or agave syrup to avoid adding too much white sugar.
An infographic about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet coffee.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you drink coffee on the Mediterranean diet?

Yes, you can drink coffee on the Mediterranean diet. Like many other foods included in the Mediterranean diet, coffee is packed with antioxidants and has many potential health benefits.

What kind of coffee can you have on the Mediterranean diet?

The kind of coffee you can have on the Mediterranean diet avoids coffee drinks that have lots of added sugars, syrups or toppings like whipped cream. Drinking coffee black is best, however you can use low-fat dairy options and sweeteners like honey or maple syrup instead of sugar.

What kind of coffee creamer can you have on the Mediterranean diet?

A heart healthy option for a Mediterranean diet coffee creamer would be unsweetened milk alternatives like almond or soy milk, or a low-fat milk rather than high-fat creamers.

Can you drink almond milk on the Mediterranean diet?

Yes, you can drink almond milk on the Mediterranean diet. Almond milk is a great plant-based source of healthy unsaturated fat.

Can you drink milk on the Mediterranean diet?

Yes, you can drink milk on the Mediterranean diet, however you should try to use a low-fat milk like skim or 1% milk.

What foods can you not eat on the Mediterranean diet?

When following the Mediterranean diet, you should focus on balance, and limit certain foods like red meats, foods high in added sugar, saturated fats and processed foods.

Example of One Day of the Mediterranean Diet


For breakfast, a great option to try is this Mediterranean Diet Oatmeal which can be customized in a variety of ways depending on how you enjoy your oatmeal!

Oatmeal is a great source of fiber and the toppings you choose can add additional benefits. For example, adding berries will add antioxidants, and adding nuts or seeds will add healthy unsaturated fat.

Of course, since this article is about coffee, I will suggest that you pair this oatmeal with a cup of coffee following the suggestions on how to make your coffee more heart healthy.

You can even try this Chia Coffee for an option with extra fiber!


For lunch, you can try this Mediterranean Chickpea Quinoa Bowl. It is another great source of fiber and contains many heart healthy ingredients.


A great snack option is this High Protein Hummus. It can be paired with vegetables, whole grain bread, whole grain crackers, or whatever other foods you enjoy dipping!

For a sweeter option, you could try these Pumpkin Protein Balls. They are a great source of protein, unsaturated fat, fiber and vitamins A and E. 


Finally, an excellent dinner idea is this Sardine Soup. Sardines are a great source of protein, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, the soup contains heart healthy ingredients like olive oil, beans and spinach.

This soup can also be paired with your favorite whole grain bread to complete the meal!

Final Thoughts

As you have learned from this article, drinking coffee in moderation may provide different health benefits including a lowered risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. It has a high antioxidant content and fits well into the Mediterranean diet.  Which is good news for a coffee lover like me. 

Eating the Mediterranean way, which focuses on whole, plant-based foods, as well as balance and moderation, can help to contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle. So enjoy your Mediterranean coffee, as coffee on a Mediterranean diet can be incorporated into a heart healthy diet.

This article was written by Siobhan Tyler, Nutrition Student, and Veronica Rouse, MAN, RD, CDE.

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