Although research on the Mediterranean Diet dates back to the 1950s, it was first popularized in 1993. That’s when three organizations–Harvard School of Public Health, the European Office of the World Health Organization and the non-profit organization Oldways—came together to translate that research into a healthy eating pattern.
Hundreds of studies have supported the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is based on the 1960s dietary traditions of Greece and southern Italy. At that time, people living in these countries had some of the lowest rates of chronic disease in the world. Not surprisingly, their diet was plant-based. But it wasn’t vegan, of course, and current recommendations based on the Mediterranean diet include animal foods, particularly fish.
It’s easy enough to veganize the Mediterranean diet, bringing a more sustainable and compassionate quality to this style of eating. Here are some tips for planning a healthy vegan Mediterranean diet.
- Pile your plate with whole grains and vegetables. These are the foods that lie at the heart of both Mediterranean and vegan diets and they provide the best start to healthful eating.
- Get protein from beans. For vegans, these foods are important sources of the essential amino acid lysine, and they are also important in the cuisine of the Mediterranean. Beans help lower blood cholesterol levels and are associated with improved blood glucose contro
- Choose extra virgin olive oil for most of the fat in your diet. It is rich in healthy fats as well as unique phytonutrients. And a drizzle (not a deluge!) of olive oil over vegetables can enhance absorption of some protective compounds.
- Use nuts and seeds to add flavor and texture to dishes. Nuts in particular are packed with heart-protective compounds.
- Use herbs and spices to provide traditional flavors. Not only do they make it easier to cook without excess salt and fat, but they provide protective phytonutrients.
- Small portions of desserts a couple times a week are fine, but use fruits as often as possible at the end of meals to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- If you drink alcohol, choose red wine. It’s consumed regularly in Mediterranean diets, but always with meals and in moderation. Moderation means one glass per day for women and no more than two for men.
- Consider a supplement of DHA and EPA. These are the long-chain omega-3 fats found in fatty fish, and they may be responsible for part of the health benefits of Mediterranean diets. Vegans can get those benefits from algae-derived supplements in non-gel capsules.
- Be active and sociable. Daily physical activity is important for overall health. And eating in the company of others may bring its own set of health benefits.