One of my recent trips to Italy was an interesting journey into the world of cuisine and longevity. Italians are well known for their plant-based Mediterranean diet. Since my friend Lisa is Italian, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go there and experience it for myself.
While I was in Sicily, one of Italy’s most famous cities in the south, I noticed that even the older population still happily went about their day.
Their secret? I was told that it’s in what they eat.
The Mediterranean diet is famous for being rich in plants and seafood, but it’s also packed with olive oil, nuts, seeds, and beans.
What’s the Difference Between a Plant-Based Diet and The Mediterranean Diet?
But what is a plant-based diet? Is it really that different from a Mediterranean diet? Is one better than the other? Let’s examine the meaning of these two terms.
“Plant-based diet” is an umbrella term that includes a variety of eating patterns which focus on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as primary food sources, and exclude meat and animal products to varying degrees. The types include:
- Vegan – no meat, no animal products
- Lacto-Vegetarian – no meat or eggs, but some dairy products
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian – no meat, but dairy products and eggs are okay
- Pescatarian – no dairy or meat, but an exception for fish
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the foods commonly eaten in countries around the Mediterranean. This diet is rich in plant based foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
It also includes protein rich foods like nuts and beans, moderate amounts of fish, poultry and other meats, and moderate amounts of dairy. This diet emphasizes eating unprocessed foods high in fiber and focusing on healthy fats in moderation.
There are many variations of the Mediterranean diet, but they all adhere to a simple premise: Eat mostly foods that grow on plants and limit red meat, poultry, and dairy products.
How Can I Follow a Plant-Based Mediterranean Diet?
If you’ve never been on a plant-based diet before, you may want to consult with a registered dietician or diet coach for practical tips and meal plan ideas that can make the transition easier for you.
Here are some tips:
- Decide what type of plant-based diet you want to follow. Will you include dairy and eggs? Or will you go fully vegan? This will help you determine to what extent you need to adapt popular Mediterranean recipes.
- Try to fill half your plate at each meal with fruits and vegetables. If you want to eat less meat, then eat more fruit and vegetables! Fruits and vegetables are high volume foods which contain fiber and lots of water, promoting a feeling of fullness.
- Choose whole foods over processed foods. Processed foods are high in calories, sugar, fat, sodium and preservatives. Whole foods are less processed, and contain less added ingredients. Ask yourself how close the food is to the form it is found in in nature.
- Replace dairy products with plant-based alternatives to reduce or eliminate dairy consumption. You can use almond, soy or rice milk to replace cow’s milk in everything from coffee to cereal, and you can explore alternative fats for cooking to replace butter. Coconut oil is a common substitution.
- Limit your consumption of sweets, desserts and salty snacks. These may taste good, but they’re packed with empty calories and unhealthy fats that are bad for your body in the long run. Instead of reaching for the cookies after dinner or reaching for those chips while watching TV at night, try a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. For more ideas, here are 10 Guilt Free Mediterranean Desserts you might want to try.
- Slowly reduce the amount of meat that you use in your favorite recipes. Think of meat as a way to add flavor to a dish, not as a main part of the meal. Reducing your meat consumption is an easy place to start when making your diet more plant-based.
How to Veganize Mediterranean Recipes
The Mediterranean diet has become widely popular in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. It has been shown to have a wide range of health benefits, while offering many delicious recipes that are easy to adapt to your own life and dietary preferences.
If you are Vegan, it is easy to modify this diet to suit your needs. When you’re trying to modify Mediterranean recipes for a Vegan meal plan, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- First, look for opportunities to replace the lost protein in a recipe by adding lentils, nuts, beans and other high protein vegetables.
- Use alternative cooking oils: olive oil and coconut oil are common butter substitutes.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things. Are you bored of capers? Try adding them to a salad or pasta dish.
- Use milk substitutes such as almond, soy milk or oat milk to make your favorite recipes vegan.
- Many Mediterranean dishes are served with crusty bread or crostini, so think about how you can incorporate those elements into your plant-based version. For example, if you’re making a soup with lentils, then try serving it with some sliced sourdough bread on top for texture and crunchiness—it’ll give it a rustic feel without being too heavy on sugar.
- Look up some Mediterranean recipes online or use them as inspiration when creating your own dishes!
Your Plant-Based Mediterranean Shopping Cart
Here are some things to include in your shopping cart when you decide to adopt a plant-based Mediterranean diet:
- Plantains and peppers: These are staples of the Mediterranean diet because they are high in fiber and have lots of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are also good sources of potassium, which helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
- Non meat proteins such as lentils, beans, and nuts Lentils are high in protein and fiber (which helps you feel fuller longer), plus they’re chock-full of folate, which is an important B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects.
- Avocados: Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fat—the healthy kind that keeps you feeling full while still keeping your metabolism humming along at an efficient speed. They’re also packed with disease-fighting antioxidants!
- Olive oil: Olive oil is a staple of Mediterranean cooking because it adds flavor. It is also high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids—both essential for keeping your skin looking young and healthy.
- Your favorite milk substitute – try almond milk, soy milk, rice, or coconut. There are many varieties, so if you aren’t sure which one is your favorite, or you don’t like the first one you try, don’t worry! There’s something for everyone.
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are high-volume, low calorie foods and can promote a feeling of fullness.
- Whole grains like oats, brown rice, and whole wheat flour.
The Mediterranean diet, with or without meat, is one of the healthiest diets in the world. If you don’t think going vegan is right for you, don’t worry. Research shows that the traditional Mediterranean diet may offer some benefits over a vegan diet. Rest assured, either diet that you choose will help you improve your health and feel your best.
If you’re on the fence about trying a plant based or Mediterranean diet – give it a try and see how you feel! Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier you!