Is there a gluten free Mediterranean diet?

The short answer is yes, it is possible to follow a gluten free version of the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating pattern focused on plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil. It also includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt, and limited amounts of red meat. This diet has been associated with many health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and cognitive decline. Fortunately, with some simple substitutions, people who need to avoid gluten can still enjoy the delicious flavors and health perks of Mediterranean eating.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The traditional Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains like barley, bulgur, buckwheat and brown rice
  • Healthy fats like olive oil, avocados and fatty fish like salmon
  • Herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Moderate amounts of dairy, eggs, poultry and fish
  • Limited red meat
  • Red wine in moderation with meals

This eating pattern provides a balance of protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. It’s typically high in fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that promote good health.

What is gluten and celiac disease?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Some people have an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease where their bodies react to gluten by damaging the small intestine. This can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and nutrient deficiencies. The only treatment for celiac disease is strictly avoiding all foods and products containing gluten.

Others may have a gluten sensitivity without having full-blown celiac disease. They may experience problems when eating gluten that resolve when they follow a gluten free diet. Reactions can include digestive issues, headaches, fatigue and joint pain.

Avoiding gluten on a Mediterranean diet

Many traditional Mediterranean diet foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs, meat, nuts and olive oil are naturally gluten free. But to fully remove gluten, it’s important to make substitutions for barley, wheat and rye products:

  • Replace breads and baked goods with gluten free varieties made from rice, corn, buckwheat, almond or coconut flours. Look for certified gluten free labels.
  • Use gluten free oats instead of regular oats, which may be contaminated with gluten during processing. Make sure the label says “gluten free.”
  • Swap wheat pastas for those made from lentils, chickpeas, brown rice, quinoa or 100% buckwheat.
  • Substitute wheat cous cous with gluten free varieties made from rice, quinoa or millet.
  • Choose corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas which contain wheat.
  • Use rice paper for spring roll wrappers rather than those made with wheat.
  • Replace wheat flour when cooking or baking with substitutes like almond, coconut, chickpea and rice flours.
  • Select wheat-free grains like quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, teff and corn.
  • Avoid malt vinegar, beer, soy sauce and other condiments that may contain gluten as ingredients.
  • Check labels carefully to watch for hidden sources of gluten like additives and flavorings.

Benefits of a gluten free Mediterranean diet

By emphasizing gluten free whole foods, the gluten free Mediterranean diet provides many advantages:

  • High in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods: Fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish contain antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
  • Rich in fiber: Beans, fruits, veggies, nuts and gluten free whole grains provide fiber that promotes good digestion and heart health.
  • Lower in added sugar: Fresh, whole foods contain natural sugars rather than added sugars that can increase diabetes risk.
  • Healthy fats: Olive oil and fatty fish provide monounsaturated and omega-3 fats that are good for your heart.
  • Nutrient-dense foods: The diet is packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants that our bodies need.
  • Provides variety: It includes diverse gluten free whole foods, spices and cooking methods.
  • Naturally gluten free: No need to purchase special processed gluten free products.

Following this eating pattern may lead to benefits like:

  • Lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer
  • Healthier body weight
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Better gut health
  • Decreased risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease
  • Longer lifespan

Sample gluten free Mediterranean diet meal plan

Here is what a week of gluten free Mediterranean diet meals could look like:

Monday Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and chopped nuts.
Lunch: Lentil soup with chickpeas, tomatoes and spinach. Salad with olive oil and lemon dressing.

Dinner: Grilled salmon with quinoa and roasted vegetables.
Tuesday Breakfast: Gluten free oatmeal with almond milk, cinnamon, fruit.
Lunch: Mediterranean salad with mixed greens, red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, feta, olives, olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Dinner: Chicken kebabs with peppers and mushrooms served with brown rice.
Wednesday Breakfast: Egg white scramble with spinach, peppers and feta. Side of fruit.
Lunch: Chickpea avocado salad.
Dinner: Baked cod with tomato sauce, green beans and roasted potato wedges.
Thursday Breakfast: Cottage cheese, nuts and berries.
Lunch: Tuna salad made with chickpeas over mixed greens.
Dinner: Turkey meatballs with marinara sauce over gluten free pasta. Side salad.
Friday Breakfast: Greek yogurt, granola, banana.
Lunch: Lentil and kale soup.
Dinner: Grilled rosemary lemon chicken, quinoa pilaf, roasted carrots.
Saturday Breakfast: Veggie omelet with goat cheese.
Lunch: Mediterranean chickpea bowl with hummus, falafel, quinoa, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, olives.
Dinner: Herb crusted salmon, brown rice, roasted broccoli.
Sunday Breakfast: Avocado toast on gluten free bread, fried egg.
Lunch: Greek salad with mixed greens, cucumber, tomato, onion, feta, olives, olive oil and lemon.

Dinner: Roast chicken with roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables.

This sample menu provides a variety of nutritious gluten free Mediterranean diet meals. Feel free to mix and match different proteins, grains, vegetables and seasonings.

Tips for success with gluten free Mediterranean eating

Here are some tips to help you stick to a gluten free Mediterranean diet:

  • Stock up on naturally gluten free whole foods like fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds and healthy oils.
  • Include legumes like beans, peas and lentils for plant-based protein and fiber.
  • Choose gluten free whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat and teff instead of refined options.
  • Load up on fresh herbs and spices to add flavor to meals.
  • Meal prep ahead by chopping veggies, batch cooking grains and roasting veggies.
  • Always check labels and call manufacturers to look for hidden gluten.
  • Select certified gluten free oats, flours and products when possible.
  • Cook more meals at home where you control ingredients.
  • Eat gluten free whole foods most of the time and limit processed items.
  • Join gluten free online communities for support and recipe ideas.

Potential challenges of gluten free Mediterranean eating

Transitioning to gluten free Mediterranean style eating has some challenges including:

  • Restricted food choices: Avoiding gluten means you can’t enjoy all the mediterranean grains like couscous and pasta.
  • High cost of gluten free products: Gluten free substitute foods tend to cost more than wheat-based versions.
  • Difficulty dining out: Many restaurant meals contain hidden gluten and cross contamination is common.
  • Learning new cooking techniques: Alternative flours and grains behave differently in recipes.
  • Risk of nutritional deficiencies: Some gluten free products are not enriched like their wheat-based counterparts.
  • Social impacts: Dietary restrictions can make dining with others more complicated.
  • Boredom with food choices: Relying on a limited selection of gluten free foods long-term.

Planning meals ahead of time, bringing your own gluten free foods and communicating with loved ones can help overcome some of these challenges.

Common questions

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the gluten free Mediterranean diet:

What are good snacks on a gluten free Mediterranean diet?

Great gluten free Mediterranean snack options include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios
  • Seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower
  • Hummus with veggie sticks
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • Bean dips like edamame dip
  • Cheese slices or cubes
  • Olives
  • Nut butters with apples or celery

What if I don’t like fish or seafood?

Fish and seafood are encouraged on the Mediterranean diet but not absolutely necessary. You can still follow a gluten free Mediterranean style eating pattern by:

  • Choosing plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu and tempeh
  • Incorporating eggs and poultry like chicken or turkey
  • Eating grass-fed meats like beef, lamb or pork in moderation
  • Taking a fish oil or algal oil supplement to get omega-3 fatty acids

What are good gluten free Mediterranean diet cookbooks?

Check out these great cookbooks for gluten free Mediterranean diet recipes and meal ideas:

  • “The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook” by America’s Test Kitchen
  • “The Mediterranean Diet for Beginners: A Quickstart Guide to Heart Health with Easy, Wholesome Meals for Better Living” by Rockridge Press
  • “The Mediterranean Dish: 150 Healthy and Delicious Recipes” by Suzy Karadsheh
  • “Gluten-Free Mediterranean Cooking” by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson
  • “The Gluten-Free Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: 150 Fresh Coastal Recipes for a Relaxed, Grain-Free Lifestyle” by Robert Ferguson

Can kids follow a gluten free Mediterranean diet?

Yes, children can absolutely eat a gluten free Mediterranean style diet. Focus on dishes they already like such as:

  • Pizza with gluten free crust, tomato sauce, veggies and cheese
  • Tacos made with corn tortillas, beans, chicken, lettuce, cheese
  • Turkey meatballs with roasted vegetables over rice pasta
  • Veggie omelets or frittatas
  • Bean and cheese quesadillas with gluten free tortillas
  • Chili made with ground turkey or beef over rice

Involve kids in selecting and preparing recipes so they feel ownership over the meals. Make it fun by arranging food into shapes or patterns.

The bottom line

The Mediterranean diet is consistently ranked as one of the healthiest eating patterns. With some simple swaps for gluten containing ingredients, it can easily be adapted to safely accommodate those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. A gluten free Mediterranean style diet built from nutritious whole foods provides great health benefits including reducing risk for chronic diseases, controlling weight, decreasing inflammation and optimizing gut health. By planning ahead and getting creative with naturally gluten free ingredients, you can enjoy delicious cuisine that fits with your dietary needs.

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