How to Make the Mediterranean Diet Work for You If You’re Gluten-Free

Photo: Unsplash / Ella Olsson
As far as healthy eating plans go, the Mediterranean diet is the gold standard in many experts' eyes. Its benefits are extensive and backed by years of research, it's not overly restrictive, and it's pretty easy to follow. Plus, who wouldn't love a plan that encourages carbs and even a bit of wine now and then?

However, the pro-carbs stance of the Med diet can make it a challenge for gluten-free eaters. If you have Celiac disease, you're not about to partake in a pasta feed or even have a slice of whole grain toast with your breakfast—even though both things are approved on the diet—because you literally cannot digest those foods.

Is there a way to benefit from this healthy eating plan while cutting out gluten? Absolutely! Here are some tips from dietitians on how to make it work for you.

1. You can still eat carbs—just ditch the gluten

“Carbohydrate-rich foods, including vegetables, fruit, beans/legumes, whole grains, and nuts, are nourishing sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Not only do these foods provide a source of energy, they're also rich in microbiome friendly fiber to help support healthy digestion and overall health,” says EA Stewart, MBA, RD, CLT. Which is why carbohydrates are an important part of the Mediterranean diet.

So if you can’t have gluten, simply nix the whole grains contain gluten (like wheat, barley, and rye) and look for gluten-free grains instead. “There are many nourishing gluten free whole grains [and] pseudo grains that can be enjoyed on a Mediterranean diet. Some of my favorites include sorghum, buckwheat, teff, oats, corn, and rice,” says Stewart. While not all are "traditional" grains of the Mediterranean region, these gluten-free whole grains can be substituted easily—and provide a similar nutritional profile as their gluten-containing counterparts.

Want to learn even more about the Mediterranean diet? Check out this episode of You Versus Food

2. Pile on the veggies

“This is a great tip for everyone, Celiac or not!" says Stewart. "I'm a fan of leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, but all veggies count." For instance, the MIND diet, a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diet, which has been found to support brain health, specifies eating at least six servings of leafy greens each week, plus an additional daily serving of any type of vegetable, she says. So, those veggies will keep your mind sharp and alert, too.

3. Enjoy fresh fruit

All foods are allowed in some capacity on the Mediterranean diet—even dessert. However, the Mediterranean way is typically to go for fresh fruit, Stewart says. “Enjoy a couple of servings of naturally sweetened fruit each day. Like veggies, fruit provides fiber, vitamins and minerals, along with anti-oxidants." This doesn't necessarily mean being happy with an apple for dessert—more about making fruit the star of your sweet treat. Here are some Mediterranean diet dessert ideas for inspiration.

Of course, there is room for your favorite GF desserts every so often—just be sure to do it in moderation. “The diet emphasizes limited processed foods and foods containing added sugars—those are the types of carbs that not really providing high nutritional value to our bodies,” says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD.

4. Add some anti-inflammatory fats

Fats are gluten-free and can boost satiety. Plus, they’re encouraged on the Mediterranean diet when they come from wholesome, unsaturated sources. “Olive oil is a main stay of the Mediterranean diet. In addition to being rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fats, olive oil also contains oleocanthal, a substance similar to NSAIDS, that helps moderate inflammation,” says Stewart—always a good thing when you're dealing with an inflammatory condition like Celiac disease. You can also enjoy avocado, nuts, other healthy oils, olives, seeds, and fish, like salmon or white fish, all of which are naturally gluten-free, too.

5. Beware of cross-contamination

Read the labels on all packaged food you purchase, especially on oats and other grains. “It's extremely important for someone with Celiac disease to source whole grains that are certified gluten-free," says Stewart. "Cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains can occur both in the field where the grains are grown, as well as in the factory where they are processed."

While there are guidelines for gluten-free labeling in the United States, those guidelines aren't always followed by food manufacturers. “Gluten Free Watchdog provides independent gluten-free testing on gluten free grains and other foods," says Stewart. It can be a helpful resource when you're considering trying a new brand.

Thankfully, there are lots of legitimately gluten-free cereals, granolas, and breads that are gluten- and grain-free, says Michalczyk. “I think years ago it would have been harder to find these gluten-free grains in products but now with things like crackers made from almond flour, there are ways to snack on the Mediterranean diet if you're not eating gluten,” she says.

Here's how to build a healthy plate if you follow the Mediterranean diet. And if you're interested in combining the Med diet with keto...we might have found just the eating plan for you.

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