Is gluten-free OK on a Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular and studied dietary patterns today. It emphasizes eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. The diet also includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy, and limits red meat and foods high in saturated fat or added sugar.

Many people choose to follow a gluten-free diet to manage celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance experience digestive issues and other symptoms when they eat gluten.

So is it possible to follow a gluten-free Mediterranean diet? Or are the two incompatible? Let’s take a closer look.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The traditional Mediterranean diet is based on the dietary patterns of people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Italy, France and Spain, in the 1960s.

Research has linked the Mediterranean diet to many health benefits, including:

– Lower risk of heart disease
– Reduced inflammation
– Better blood sugar control
– Improved brain health
– Potentially a lower risk of some cancers
– Longer lifespan

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Fish and seafood are recommended at least twice a week. Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt are moderate sources of protein. Red meat should be limited.

Olive oil is the primary source of fat. Herbs and spices are used to flavor foods instead of salt. Red wine may be consumed in moderation with meals.

Key foods in the Mediterranean diet:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs and spices
  • Fish and seafood
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Cheese and yogurt
  • Moderate red wine

This diet emphasizes natural, minimally processed foods. It limits red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, added sugars and other highly processed foods.

The Mediterranean diet provides around 40% of calories from healthy fats, mainly from olive oil. It includes moderate amounts of protein and carbs—each providing about 30% of calories. The remaining calories come from fruits and vegetables.

What is a gluten-free diet?

A gluten-free diet avoids all foods and drinks containing gluten. This protein is found in grains like wheat, barley, rye and triticale.

People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity need to follow a strict lifelong gluten-free diet. For those with celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine.

Gluten sensitivity is characterized by intestinal and extraintestinal symptoms related to eating gluten. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Skin issues
  • Joint pain

Going gluten-free improves these symptoms for those who are sensitive. It also helps heal the gut for people with celiac disease.

A strict gluten-free diet eliminates foods like:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Beer
  • Cakes and cookies
  • Pizzas
  • Soy sauce
  • Salad dressings and sauces thickened with wheat

Reading labels is important since gluten can hide in many processed foods and condiments, even ones that don’t seem grain-based. Cross-contamination is also a concern.

Is a gluten-free Mediterranean diet possible?

Fortunately, following a gluten-free Mediterranean-style diet is absolutely achievable. This diet is naturally gluten-free thanks to its emphasis on produce, legumes, fish, poultry and healthy fats.

Many of the core foods in the Mediterranean diet are naturally gluten-free, including:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Plain yogurt
  • Fish and seafood
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil and olives
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Quinoa
  • Polenta
  • Buckwheat
  • Potatoes
  • Millet
  • Sorghum
  • Fresh herbs and spices

The main modifications needed are choosing naturally gluten-free whole grains and avoiding wheat-based products.

Here are some simple swaps to help you adapt traditional Mediterranean fare:

  • Instead of wheat couscous, use chickpea pasta or quinoa
  • Swap wheat pita for corn tortillas
  • Use polenta instead of barley in soups and stews
  • Choose potato gnocchi rather than wheat-based versions
  • Top pizzas with gluten-free crust
  • Select gluten-free oats for porridge or granola
  • Substitute rice noodles for wheat pasta

With some simple substitutions like these, you can follow an authentic Mediterranean eating pattern while keeping your diet gluten-free. This modified version excludes all sources of gluten without sacrificing the core principles and health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Benefits of a gluten-free Mediterranean diet

Combining a Mediterranean diet with gluten-free eating provides several potential perks:

  • Allows people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to follow the diet: The Mediterranean diet offers many benefits for overall health. Removing gluten makes it possible for those who require a gluten-free diet to enjoy this nutritious way of eating.
  • Provides healthy sources of carbohydrates: Gluten-free whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, millet and quinoa offer important nutrients including fiber, B vitamins and minerals.
  • High in produce: Fresh fruits and vegetables take center stage in this diet, providing antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber. Going gluten-free does not change this key benefit.
  • Emphasizes healthy fats: The Mediterranean diet gets about 40% of calories from anti-inflammatory fats like olive oil. A gluten-free version maintains this major health benefit.
  • Low in sugar: Refined grains tend to be higher on the glycemic index. Removing gluten-containing processed carbs decreases your glycemic load.
  • Limits processed foods: Following a gluten-free natural foods diet minimizes exposure to unhealthy ingredients like additives and preservatives.

Research on gluten-free diets has shown mixed results regarding their health impacts for those without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. But overall, evidence suggests that emphasizing whole, naturally gluten-free foods as part of an overall balanced diet based on the Mediterranean pattern can provide health advantages.

Sample gluten-free Mediterranean diet meal plan

Here is a sample one-week meal plan for a gluten-free Mediterranean diet:


Breakfast: Greek yogurt topped with sliced peaches and slivered almonds

Lunch: Niçoise salad with tuna, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and olives over mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette

Dinner: Baked salmon with roasted asparagus and quinoa


Breakfast: Rice flour pancakes with fresh berries

Lunch: Lentil and chickpea soup with a side salad

Dinner: Chicken kebabs with peppers, onion and pineapple over brown rice


Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with sauteed spinach and sliced tomatoes

Lunch: Grilled vegetable and mozzarella sandwich on gluten-free bread

Dinner: Zucchini noodle pasta with shrimp in tomato sauce


Breakfast: Gluten-free oatmeal with walnuts, cinnamon and fruit

Lunch: Arugula salad with grilled chicken, avocado and pumpkin seeds

Dinner: Pork tenderloin with roasted carrots, sweet potatoes and fresh herbs


Breakfast: Buckwheat crepes with coconut yogurt and blueberries

Lunch: White bean and tuna salad stuffed in a hollowed red pepper

Dinner: Baked cod with artichokes, olives and roasted potatoes


Breakfast: Veggie omelette with goat cheese and spinach

Lunch: Curried chickpea salad over mixed greens with balsamic dressing

Dinner: Grilled lamb chops with polenta and sautéed kale


Breakfast: Quinoa porridge with chopped dates and almonds

Lunch: Roasted eggplant and feta quinoa bowl

Dinner: Turkey meatballs with zucchini noodles and marinara sauce

Tips for success on the gluten-free Mediterranean diet

Here are some tips to help you stick to a gluten-free Mediterranean eating plan:

  • Fill your plate with produce at meals and snacks.
  • Explore new naturally gluten-free whole grains like millet, amaranth and teff.
  • Stock up on gluten-free staples like beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa and buckwheat.
  • Seek out gluten-free substitutions for your favorite wheat-based foods.
  • Cook more dishes focused on lean proteins and veggies seasoned with olive oil, herbs and spices.
  • If following the diet for health reasons, be vigilant about reading labels and avoiding cross-contamination.
  • Make meals centered around naturally gluten-free core foods rather than seeking out specialty products.
  • Stick with unprocessed fresh foods as much as possible.
  • Meal prep batches of gluten-free grains and legumes.
  • Look for Mediterranean diet cookbooks and resources with gluten-free options.

The Mediterranean diet is consistently ranked as one of the healthiest eating patterns. With some simple gluten-free swaps, people who require a gluten-free diet can also experience the benefits of this nutritious way of eating.

Potential challenges

However, there are some potential drawbacks to note:

  • Higher cost: Gluten-free specialty products tend to be more expensive. Sticking to naturally gluten-free whole foods helps minimize the impact on your budget.
  • Social challenges: Dining out and traveling while gluten-free requires more planning and assertiveness. Being prepared helps you stick to your diet.
  • Time commitment: Adapting recipes and preparing more meals at home takes effort, especially when first transitioning to this diet.
  • Learning curve: It takes time to determine safe gluten-free alternatives you enjoy for your favorite foods and meals.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: There is a small risk for inadequate fiber, B vitamins, iron and calcium on a gluten-free diet. Work with a dietitian to ensure you meet all your nutritional needs.
  • Unhealthy gluten-free foods: Some packaged items are high in sugar, refined carbs and artificial ingredients. Always read labels.

With planning and education, these hurdles can be overcome. The benefits of a gluten-free Mediterranean diet outweigh the difficulties for many people.

Should you try a gluten-free Mediterranean diet?

Transitioning to a gluten-free Mediterranean diet can be a healthy option, but consult a doctor first if you have concerns about your individual needs.

This diet is essential for managing celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It may also be a smart choice for those seeking to reduce inflammation or improve gut health.

But there’s no solid evidence that following a gluten-free diet provides benefits if you do not have gluten-related health issues. Going gluten-free limits food choices and makes healthy carb sources like whole grains harder to obtain.

Work with an expert to determine if eliminating gluten is the right decision for your situation. They can help you adapt the diet effectively to meet all nutritional requirements.

With the proper modifications and planning, combining gluten-free eating with a Mediterranean diet is achievable. For many, it may be an optimal approach to promote overall wellness. But consult your healthcare provider to decide if this diet fits your individual needs.


The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and healthy fats from olive oil and fish. This creates an anti-inflammatory eating pattern full of antioxidants, fiber and healthy carbs and fats.

Many of the core foods in this diet are naturally gluten-free. By substituting items like gluten-free oats, quinoa, rice noodles and corn tortillas for wheat-based products, you can easily adapt this diet if you require a gluten-free diet.

With some simple swaps, planning and label reading, it is absolutely possible to follow a gluten-free Mediterranean diet. This modified version provides the same benefits, including potential decreased inflammation, improved gut health, better blood sugar control and more.

For those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, combining these two eating patterns allows you to enjoy the perks of the Mediterranean diet while avoiding the negatives of eating gluten.

As with any dietary change, work with a professional to ensure it meets your individual nutritional needs and fits your health goals. But for many, a gluten-free Mediterranean diet can be a nourishing, varied and sustainable approach.

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