A Mediterranean diet is popular for helping people get healthy. Same with being a vegetarian. The question is: why not both?
A vegetarian Mediterranean diet goes together naturally. A lot of the staple foods of each diet overlap, and a lot of the same tenets that make up each nutritional approach are similar, if not the same.
Whether your goal is to eat healthier, try a new way of eating, or you simply just love Mediterranean food, this might be the diet for you.
And if you’re not sure, some of the recipes at the end of this guide might be enticing enough to want to give it a shot.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to craft your nutrition around the two diets. We’ll look at the goals of each diet, ways to simplify how you eat, and tasty recipes you can try.
What Is The Vegetarian Diet?
A vegetarian omits meat products like meat, fish, chicken, and beef from their diet. There are different types of vegetarians, but that holds true across all forms of the diet. Instead of eating meat, a vegetarian typically bases their diet around vegetables, fruits, nuts, and plant-based protein sources like tofu or quinoa.
According to WebMD, vegetarian diets can offer you a lot. They can help lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and be effective for losing weight if that’s your goal. And they are less restrictive than you might think. Once you’re used to plant-based alternatives—and find some of your favorite vegetarian snacks—you’ll probably not feel too restricted.
What Is The Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet got popular in the 1990s. It was inspired by the way Greek and Italian people ate in the 1960s and 1970s, and became popular because of the health benefits reported.
According to Healthline, the diet is much healthier than a “Standard” American diet that’s based around processed foods and excess carbohydrates. Instead, the diet is based around liberal amounts of olive oil, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and potatoes.
You can eat meat, but chicken and seafood are preferred. They suggest only eating red meat sparingly.
One benefit to eating this way is that you can now find more healthy restaurant options than ever before.
Combining The Two Diets
On one side, you’ve got a diet that requires you to omit meat entirely. On the other, you’ve got a diet based around lots of the same foods that technically allows for meats, but doesn’t consume them often.
Combining the two, then, shouldn’t be that difficult. Here’s what you should keep in mind:
Base your meals around vegetables
Veggies, especially fiber-rich ones, are filling, nutritious, and work well as an entree. Many people fail to stick to a vegetarian diet because they don’t eat enough—they’re used to getting calories from meat and aren’t replacing that with other foods. Prioritize vegetables, and you’ll soon be feeling (and probably also looking) a lot better.
Eat lots of healthy fats
Healthy fats like olive oil are packed with monounsaturated fats, which are good for your heart. The good part about olive oil is its versatility—you can cook with it, make salad dressings or marinades, or dip bread right into it. Adding fat to your diet also helps shore up the calorie deficit from not eating meat.
Make food you enjoy
The key to any diet’s success long-term is your enjoyment of it. Diets that are too restrictive or unpleasant rarely work, and almost never lead to lasting results. So even though you may be working with new ingredients (or trying to prioritize certain ones) it’s best to find recipes you really like. (We’ll look at some tasty ones in a minute.)
Things To Consider
If you’re just switching over to a Mediterranean vegetarian diet, remember that it may take some time to adjust. Even the best-tasting Mediterranean dishes might feel different at first if you’re used to eating a certain way. It’s totally common when switching to a new diet to:
- Have gastrointestinal issues
- Feel hungry
- Feel thirsty
All of this is because your body is getting used to taking in new foods. Eating this way, almost by default, increases the amount of vitamins and minerals you’re taking in. Remember that you are what you eat, and changing that may mean your body needs some time to get used to things.
Things To Avoid
Let’s review a few things that pop up when you try to combine two diets.
First, is the lack of protein. Protein is necessary for good health, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat animal protein to get it. You can eat beans, grains like quinoa, and cheese, and still get a hefty dose of protein each day. Don’t sweat the fact that you aren’t getting any protein in as long as you’re focusing on quality meals.
You’re allowed to eat bread on both diets, but you may find that basing all your meals around bread isn’t a great idea. By all means have bread a meal or two a day, but placing a large emphasis on eating nutrient-dense foods will keep you full longer, satisfied, and healthier.
Finally, you might consider taking a multivitamin supplement while your body adjusts. This way you’re getting the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy.
To set the record straight, here’s 12 “staples” of following both diets that you should have on hand:
- Olive oil
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc.)
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts, or cashews
- Legumes (beans, peanuts)
- Feta cheese (or another hard cheese that you like)
- Pasta (whole grain or gluten-free if you need it)
- Other whole grains like rice, quinoa, or couscous
- Your favorite fruits
- Veggie-friendly snacks, like celery sticks, crackers, or vegetarian bars
- “Meal” veggies, like eggplant, zucchini, and cauliflower
- Coconut products like coconut milk or coconut oil
Switching to a new diet impacts your lifestyle as much as anything else. When you first make the switch, try meal prepping (cooking several meals in advance) so you have leftovers to eat early on. Most diets fail because people are either hungry or feel overwhelmed by the diet, and having food on hand can help mitigate both circumstances.
The benefits of meal prepping are immense. You can save several hours worth of time each week by cooking in bulk once or twice, and still have plenty of food to eat.
If you aren’t a fan of leftovers, though, you can always pre-chop vegetables or just make sure everything you need to cook is on hand. The key is simplifying the process so you’re never at a loss when it comes to eating good food.
Mediterranean Vegetarian Recipes
Now the fun part—let’s eat! Below are a handful of recipes you can try right at home with your new diet.
- These zucchini cakes are easy to prepare, don’t take long to cook, and can be used as an appetizer or when planning an event.
- This spaghetti squash recipe might give you a reason to skip the pasta next time you’re making a plant-based dinner.
- This dandelion salad is a great way to get more greens in your diet. And if you can’t find dandelion greens, you can always substitute spinach or your favorite leafy green vegetables.
- If you’re a fan of cheese—and who isn’t—these tomato bruschetta bites might be a decadent way to start a meal. Crunchy, cheesy, and healthy!
- A simple combination of herbs and spices, this Brussels sprout recipe might turn a vegetable you didn’t previously love into a staple around your house.
We could list thirty more recipes, but you kind of get the point. It’s entirely possible to combine both diets, and whether you’re looking to make a side dish, an entree, a salad, or something else, you have plenty of options.
Vegetarian Mediterranean Diet: Wrapping Up
A vegetarian Mediterranean diet actually works pretty well together. At the heart of both diets, you’re prioritizing healthy, wholesome, delicious vegetables. All you have to do is omit meat and place an emphasis on healthy fats and you’ve successfully combined the two.
Remember to base your meals around foods you like, and don’t be afraid to experiment. The recipes listed above are a great place to start, but try making your own “staples” that you can eat time and time again.