The Mediterranean Diet is a commonly recommended diet that is based on the eating pattern of people in the Mediterranean region. It suggests the high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, and water; a moderate consumption of seafood, poultry, and dairy; and a low intake of sweets and processed or red meat. The Mediterranean Diet is associated with many positive health benefits. For patients with celiac disease, the Mediterranean Diet can help provide important nutrients that a typical gluten-free diet may lack—without the significant risk of undesired weight gain that can lead to overweight or obesity. And the diet can easily be made gluten-free.
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Research has shown that the Mediterranean Diet offers a wide range of health benefits.
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers risk of early menopause
- Decreases risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
- May improve cognitive performance
- Decreases obesity risk
- Increases chances of healthy aging
- Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes
The Mediterranean Diet first became popular in 1993 and has continued to grow in popularity, and the 2015 U.S. Dietary guidelines recommend a Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern.
How does the Mediterranean Diet differ for those on a gluten-free diet?
Those on a gluten-free diet, such as those with celiac disease, will only need to make some minor modifications to maintain their dietary needs. The most significant change is substituting gluten-free whole grains for any gluten-containing grains, such as whole wheat, typically included in the Mediterranean Diet. Some suitable gluten-free whole grain substitutes can be found below.
AVOID Gluten-Containing Whole Grains
- Wheat flour
- Commercial Oats
CHOOSE Some Gluten-Free Whole Grains, Nut Flours
- Brown Rice
- Whole Grain Cornmeal
- Nut flours (almond, hazelnut)
Make sure that all gluten-free grain and flour substitutes are labeled gluten-free. Remember to check other foods you eat while on the Mediterranean Diet, such as nuts, seeds, and spices for gluten. Pasta is associated with the Mediterranean Diet and there are a variety of options available.
Remember to make these dietary changes slowly and start with small steps. It is important to add fiber slowly, and increase water intake with added fiber, to help the gut adjust to these changes in diet.
Iron deficient anemia is common in celiac disease. Since iron can be challenging to obtain from the Mediterranean Diet, women, in particular, should pay close attention to choosing iron-rich foods, such as lentils, spinach, almonds, lean red meat and dark meat poultry.
Visit with a registered dietitian skilled in celiac disease/gluten-free diet to ensure that you are getting all of your vitamins and minerals, in particular, calcium, vitamin D, iron, B vitamins, and zinc.
Drinking plenty of water is an important part of the diet. Red wine is allowed in moderation—one five-ounce drink for women and two for men—along with plenty of water. Daily exercises, both strenuous and light, are important additions. And the diet encourages the social experience of eating shared meals.
Weight gain can be an unwelcome consequence of following the gluten-free diet, but adoption of a Mediterranean diet can counter this side effect. A study in the American Journal of Medicine showed that those on the Mediterranean diet lost more weight than those on a traditional low-fat diet.
In addition, the Mediterranean diet may have benefits for those with anemia, a common problem for those newly diagnosed with celiac disease. A 2009 study in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that adolescent boys who switched from a regular diet to a Mediterranean diet had increased absorption and retention of iron, even though the amount of iron in their diet did not increase.
As always, anyone who has anemia should work with their medical provider or dietitian to determine if an iron supplement is necessary. However, a Mediterranean diet can go a long way in keeping iron stores at proper levels, even without red meat.
The Mediterranean diet can help relieve the culinary boredom some people feel on the gluten-free diet because it includes such a wide variety of foods prepared in simple but flavorful ways. Before long you’ll be enjoying your food more and feeling better than ever at the same time you are improving the nutritional quality of your diet.