The Gluten-Free Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating that focuses on fresh, whole foods. The diet also includes wine in moderation and olive oil as the primary fat source. The focus of this diet is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs for optimal health without any gluten products. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be beneficial in maintaining a healthy weight, as well as improving lipid profiles. It can even help prevent heart disease! A gluten-free diet can help those with celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity live a healthy life free of symptoms. This article will cover how the gluten-free Mediterranean diet works, what benefits are included, and tips for starting this new lifestyle today.
What Are The Principles Of The Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is an eating plan inspired by the traditional eating habits of people living in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
The typical Mediterranean diet includes a high intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains; moderate amounts of fish and poultry; occasional dairy products; limited red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and regular but moderate amounts of wine (19). Many variations exist within the basic principles outlined above.
The Mediterranean diet pyramid offers guidelines for daily meal choices and includes the following food items:
Fruits And Vegetables
All fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruits and fruit juices, as well as all fresh or frozen vegetables count. Leafy green vegetables are emphasized over other types of vegetables. A variety of colors – especially reds and greens – can contribute to a healthy diet with lots of antioxidants (8). Also, try to incorporate legumes regularly (beans, peas, lentils).
Choose whole grains whenever possible. At least half of your total grain intake should come from whole grains.
All types of bread that are made with 100% whole wheat flour are good options. Pasta is fine too, but it’s better if it is whole-wheat pasta.
A variety of fish and poultry are encouraged, including omega-3 fatty acid-rich species such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines. Dairy products are not included in the main recommendations but are permitted in some variations of the diet. Lean meat is acceptable, but red meat should be eaten sparingly.
Eggs can also be part of your daily intake. Nuts may be incorporated into meals for a healthy fat boost, but they are high in calories, so don’t overdo it (11). Legumes (beans, peas, lentils) can provide an additional boost of protein to your diet too.
These are mainly low-fat or nonfat yogurt, low-fat cheese, or feta.
The main fats should come from fish, nuts, and olive oil, a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids. Canola oil may be used instead but it isn’t traditionally Mediterranean and while heart healthy, it doesn’t have exactly the same nutritional profile as olive oil. Olive oil can be combined with fresh herbs and spices for better absorption and reduced risk of oxidation (rancidity) (4).
Water, tea (herbal or regular), coffee (caffeinated or decaf), and red wine (in moderation) are fine options. Remember that alcohol should only be consumed by adults of the legal drinking age and only in moderation (one drink per day for women and one to two for men).
The Mediterranean diet also encourages regular physical activity and getting plenty of rest, as well as enjoying your meals with family and friends. These components are all essential to an overall healthy lifestyle!
Health Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet
Research has demonstrated several benefits of the Mediterranean diet, including:
Numerous studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet is associated with decreased risk of developing and dying from cancer. Research shows that postmenopausal women who followed the Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop breast cancer than their counterparts, while high consumption of fruits, vegetables, and olive oil (trademarks of the Mediterranean diet) were associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer in men (6) (18).
Overall, research has linked the Mediterranean diet plan to reduced risk in both sexes for at least seven types of cancer: colorectal, pancreas, breast, prostate, stomach, liver, and aerodigestive cancers (7).
Research has revealed that heart disease can be prevented or at least your risk reduced by following the Mediterranean diet. Some studies have found that those who closely follow a Mediterranean diet have as much as a 50% lower risk of recurrent heart disease than people who do not adhere to the Mediterranean diet (14).
Many studies have concluded that following a healthy lifestyle contributes to reducing stroke risk factors, including stroke recurrence later in life. Eating foods high in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, along with low levels of trans fats, can reduce blood pressure levels and help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease conditions like stroke or heart attack.
A Mediterranean diet rich in fiber can help control blood sugar levels and decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Participants in a study who followed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan with a high intake of nuts, whole grains, and fruits experienced decreased fasting blood sugar levels (17). Other studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet may reduce insulin resistance, which can help protect against type 2 diabetes (15).
A review of existing research published in 2010 found that adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet may help protect against cognitive decline as we age (1). In one study, researchers found that those who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet had a reduced risk for mild cognitive impairment compared to those who followed the diet less closely (13).
One study revealed that older adults who followed a Mediterranean-style diet had a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, including slower rates of cognitive decline (16). Research shows that participants who closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet were at a lower risk for developing the disease than their counterparts who followed it less closely.
Dietary intake has been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) risk. Clinical studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet plan rich in fiber, vegetables, and fish or taking probiotics can help reduce inflammation or digestive problems like bloating, cramping, and diarrhea (3).
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Why Go Gluten-Free?
Gluten’s most common function in the human diet is to provide elasticity and chewiness to baked products, such as bread and cakes.
Gluten intolerance means that your body has a reaction to gluten that results in debilitating symptoms and intestinal damage. This intolerance can cause symptoms like chronic diarrhea; constipation or gas; fatigue,; bone or joint pain; weight loss; depression; numbness in the legs, arms, and fingers; migraines and headaches; along with many others (even neurological symptoms such as brain fog).
The most common form of gluten intolerance is celiac disease or CD. It’s estimated that about 1% of the world’s population has a CD (5). However, many people are not diagnosed because they don’t realize they have it and go undiagnosed for decades. CD, is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system, triggered by the presence of gluten, attacks and destroys its own intestinal cells. People with other autoimmune diseases (like type 1 diabetes) or who have close relatives with CD are more likely to have CD.
For some people without CD, gluten consumption still triggers a response in the gut that can lead to celiac-like symptoms, intestinal damage, and other serious health conditions. This condition is called “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” or NCGS (9).
Going gluten-free is one of the best things people with CD or NCGS can do to improve overall health.
How To Combine Gluten Free And Mediterranean Diet?
People who follow a gluten-free diet have high intakes of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fish. Combining this with a plant-based Mediterranean diet, it is easy to see how you can enhance your overall health.
The gluten-free diet requires the elimination of all wheat, rye, and barley. These are all included in traditional Mediterranean (10) diets, so it is important to find substitutes for them to create a gluten-free Mediterranean diet.
Also included in the gluten-free Mediterranean meal plan will be dairy products such as yogurt and cheese; eggs; meat, such as poultry, beef, or lamb; fish and shellfish; nuts like almonds and hazelnuts; beans like chickpeas and black beans; and extra virgin olive oil as the main source of fat.
Here are some ideas on how to transform your favorite dishes into healthier, gluten-free options:
- Instead of regular pasta, use rice or chickpea pasta
- Replace barley with brown rice
- Substitute quinoa for white or wild rice
- Instead of white bread, use gluten-free alternatives like quinoa bread, buckwheat bread, brown rice bread, or sourdough spelt bread
- Go gluten-free when you order in a restaurant (Gluten hides in many foods, including soy sauce, salad dressing, balsamic vinegar, and even French fries)
- When baking at home, make sure your flour mixture is gluten-free by using gluten-free flours like brown rice flour, almond meal, or sorghum flour instead of regular wheat flour.
Sample Gluten-Free Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
Here are a few meal options for this diet plan:
- Breakfast: Quinoa bowl almond milk and a banana
- Snack: Fresh fruit and a handful of nuts like almonds or walnuts
- Lunch: Tuna salad sandwich (made using white albacore tuna) on gluten-free bread; Greek yogurt with berries for dessert
- Snack: Pear slices dipped in cashew butter; cup of black coffee
- Dinner: Grilled steak; roasted sweet potatoes and asparagus drizzled with extra virgin olive oil; cup of green tea
- Breakfast: Chia seed pudding made with almond milk and berries
- Snack: Apple slices topped with a tablespoon of peanut butter
- Lunch: Egg salad sandwich on gluten-free bread made with hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, chopped celery, onions, and light mayo
- Snack: Cucumber slices topped with guacamole
- Dinner: Baked salmon with lemon juice, salt, and pepper served with roasted asparagus and onions; cup of green tea
- Breakfast: Gluten-free toast topped with mashed avocado and a poached egg; cup of black coffee
- Snack: Gluten-free crackers topped with goat cheese and chia seed jam
- Lunch: Quinoa bowl topped with shredded carrots, cucumbers, sprouts, and toasted almonds
- Snack: Orange slices and a handful of peanuts
- Dinner: Gluten-free pasta with shrimp, tomatoes and fresh basil; a glass of rosé
- Breakfast: Oatmeal (make sure the label says gluten-free) made with almond milk and topped with fresh berries; cup of black coffee
- Snack: Gluten-free muffins
- Lunch: Pear salad made with arugula, spinach, toasted almonds, goat cheese, and olive oil
- Snack: Gluten-free homemade granola
- Dinner: Stuffed peppers made with ground turkey, brown rice, tomatoes, and cilantro; a glass of red wine
- Breakfast: Eggs any style served with gluten-free toast
- Snack: Avocado, tomato, and cucumber slices drizzled with olive oil
- Lunch: Chicken stir-fry made with bok choy, mushrooms, carrots, and peanuts; cup of green tea
- Snack: Steamed broccoli drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with toasted almonds (use sunflower seeds instead of almonds if you are allergic)
- Dinner: Baked halibut topped with lemon juice, salt, and pepper; roasted sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts; glass of red wine
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Tips For Making The Gluten-Free Mediterranean Diet Work For You
Below are a few tips to help you with the Mediterranean diet:
- Eat a variety of foods from each food group, making sure to get enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products to maintain a healthy diet.
- Store-bought substitutes can be expensive, so cook at home whenever possible.
- If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, double-check ingredient lists for added fillers that contain gluten. Avoid foods with hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), malt vinegar, or barley malt syrup.
- If you go out to eat, make sure the establishment has an allergen menu. While at a restaurant, tell your server that you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity to avoid cross-contamination. Also, ask if the menu items contain gluten before ordering.
- Even when dining out, ask about ingredients before ordering if you’re not sure.
- You can still enjoy your favorite foods by using gluten-free alternatives that are just as tasty and nutritious.
- Choose naturally gluten-free foods when possible, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, and fish (12). This applies to mealtimes as well as snack time.
- To make sure your food is safe from hidden sources of gluten, always read labels on any pre-packaged foods. If you are unsure about ingredients listed on the food label, contact the manufacturer directly to inquire about whether their product contains gluten.
- If you accidentally ingest gluten, don’t be discouraged—symptoms can vary from person to person depending on how much they ingested and their sensitivity level.
The Gluten-Free Mediterranean Diet can help you get relief from CD symptoms, boost your energy levels, and improve your overall health. It allows you to enjoy delicious food options while maintaining a healthy diet. If the thought of giving up bread or pasta is too difficult for you to consider, there are gluten-free versions available on the market today! Make sure your pantry is stocked with these products before beginning this diet plan so that it’s easy for you to transition into following the GFMD.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet Protects from Cognitive Decline in the Invecchiare in Chianti Study of Aging (2018, mdpi.com)
- Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and risk of stroke and stroke subtypes (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- An Examination of Diet for the Maintenance of Remission in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (2017, mdpi.com)
- Antioxidant Activity of Spices and Their Impact on Human Health: A Review (2017, mdpi.com)
- Celiac Disease (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Conformity to traditional Mediterranean diet and breast cancer risk in the Greek EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) cohort (2010, academic.oup.com)
- Does a Mediterranean-Type Diet Reduce Cancer Risk? – Current Nutrition Reports (2016, link.springer.com)
- Effect of fruit and vegetable antioxidants on total antioxidant capacity of blood plasma (sciencedirect.com)
- Gluten: A Benefit or Harm to the Body? (n.d., hsph.harvard.edu)
- Gluten-free diet (2021, mayoclinic.org)
- Health Benefits of Nut Consumption(2010, mdpi.com)
- Healthy diet (2020, who.int)
- Mediterranean Diet and Mild Cognitive Impairment | Dementia and Cognitive Impairment (2009, jamanetwork.com)
- Mediterranean diet and prevention of coronary heart disease in the elderly (2007, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Mediterranean Diet Effects on Type 2 Diabetes Prevention, Disease Progression, and Related Mechanisms. A Review (2020, mdpi.com)
- Nutritional prevention of cognitive decline and dementia (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Pattern in Special Populations (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Mediterranean Diet Reduces the Risk and Mortality of the Prostate Cancer: A Narrative Review (2017, frontiersin.org)
- What is the Mediterranean Diet? (2020, heart.org)