Mediterranean Diet for Vegans
The Mediterranean Diet is well known in the nutrition world for its amazing health benefits, but is it possible to follow this diet as a vegan?
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is based on the 1960’s dietary traditions of the people living in Greece and Southern Italy. During that time, the people living in these countries had some of the lowest rates of chronic disease in the world. It’s hardly surprising, their diet was plant-based, but not exclusively vegan, as their diet did contain animal foods—especially fish.
The Mediterranean Diet focuses on the following principles, most of which are easily adapted for a more compassionate, vegan approach.
• Follow a diet based primarily on plant foods, for example fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
• Use healthy, unsaturated fats such as olive and canola oil, rather than saturated ones such as butter.
• Limit red meat consumption to no more than a few times per month.
• Replace salt with other herbs and spices for flavor.
• Have at least two meals each week that feature fish or poultry.
• Moderate intake of red wine is allowed, with meals. Moderate means one glass per day for women, and two glasses for men.
How can the Mediterranean Diet be adapted for vegans?
All of the above principles are easy for a vegan to follow, with of course, the exception of fish, chicken, and red meat. Vegans can, instead, opt to get their protein from beans, nuts, and seeds. Beans are packed with fiber, essential amino acids, and provide lowered cholesterol levels and improved glucose control. Nuts are packed with compounds that provide protection for the heart.
People on the Greek island of Crete are traditionally vegan for about half of the year, because they don’t consume meat or dairy during religious holidays. On those days, they will eat veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, bread, and fruit. They have been eating this way for so long that they have created thousands of delicious recipes. There is no feeling deprived on the days when they go vegan.
The fact that the people of the Mediterranean are healthy and eat less animal products is no coincidence. Studies show that vegans have lower rates of most diseases including heart disease and diabetes. So, even if you don’t become purely vegan, it is always helpful to decrease the amount of animal products you consume on a daily basis.
A normal Mediterranean diet can be easily followed by vegans with the majority of the same health benefits. In fact, following this eating style and trying new recipes and cooking techniques in the Mediterranean region is likely to provide vegans with a larger variety of tasty meals and food ideas without meat. Vegan eating can sometimes be limiting, but Mediterranean-style dishes based on tomatoes, herbs and olive oil can provide an exciting change and variety to the menu. This cooking style uses age-old flavor combinations to produce satisfying, nutrient-rich meals.
The best thing about this diet is it is not so much a diet, but a style of eating. There is no counting of calories, no foods groups that are completely excluded and no supplements (other than a plant-based Omega-3) or meal replacements. This is a natural, healthy way of eating that has been shown over history to benefit our health.
By the way, Eggplants make great Mediterranean vegan food and they aren't only for the rich.