The Mediterranean Diet as an Intermediate Step Towards a Vegan Diet

Registered dietician Andy De Santis takes a look at the Mediterranean diet from a plant based perspective

Vegans are among the most passionate groups of individuals when it comes to the pride and public defense of their beliefs and lifestyle choice.

And for good reason: opting for a vegan lifestyle is a profoundly meaningful choice with untold benefits.

There also must be some level of acknowledgement that not all people, despite their beliefs and values, are ready to abandon a conventional diet in favour of a plant-based ones straight away.

Many of these people may be those closest to you, and it probably bothers you deeply.

So what can you do?

I highly recommend encouraging & challenging people who you believe to be “would-be” vegans to consider adopting a Mediterranean diet pattern as the first step in a potential transition from the conventional western diet to a fully plant-based diet.

Is a Mediterranean diet a vegan diet? No. But it is far more plant-based than the average persons diet has the potential to show someone just how good (mind, body & soul) plant-based eating can make someone feel.

So how does a Mediterranean diet compare to a conventional one?

There are 3 major differences in a Mediterranean diet.

1. Meat alternatives are valued much more highly than meat:  In the Mediterranean dietary pattern, the foods that are often considered alternatives to meat (legumes, nuts, seeds) are actually deemed as everyday foods and valued at the same level as other plant based foods such as whole grains, fruits, and veggies. These “meat alternatives” are to be consumed much more frequently than meat.

2. Meat is to be consumed much less frequently: In a conventional diet meat is pretty much an everyday food, but this is not the case at all in the Mediterranean diet. In fact, fish is the only type of meat the diet recommends to consume more than once (twice) weekly. Chicken is to be consumed about once a week and red meat is actually to be limited to about once a month.

3. Eggs and Dairy are to be consumed much less frequently:  In a conventional diet eggs and dairy are pretty much daily staples, but in the Mediterranean diet they are foods to be consumed on a weekly, rather than daily basis.

Long story short, the Mediterranean diet promotes a much more plant-based approach to eating without the complete restriction of animal products.

Is this a satisfactory solution to passionate vegans out there? No, but my hope is that you are able to appreciate the potential of the Mediterranean diet as a powerful intermediary between the diet of conventional western diet and exclusive plant based diets.

I think that the Mediterranean diet offers a very strong first step for “would-be” vegans out there, and also provides a platform for those vegans who want to encourage those close to them to try something different.

The foundations of the Mediterranean diet are built on strong values, that is to include the majority of your calories from plant-based whole foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.

For this reason, I do believe the Mediterranean dietary pattern has some value to would-be vegans, and plant-based eaters out there who would like to persuade those close to them to eat less meat without alienating them completely.

My 3 step plant-based challenge

So talking about the Mediterranean diet as an intermediary is all well and good, but action will still be required.

That’s where my plant-based challenge comes in.

1. For every litre cow’s milk consumed, swap in a litre of fortified soy or almond milk. Swap out the Cow’s Milk or Yogurt in your home with fortified soy or almond milk.

2. For every second egg you consume on a weekly basis, swap in either ½ of an avocado or 1 tbsp of peanut butter instead.

3. For every meal you consume meat, ensure your subsequent meal includes a plant-based protein source instead.

It is hard to deny the ethical, environmental and health implications of eating a vegan diet, but I do believe there is some worth in acknowledging that there are a body of “would be” plant based eaters out there that need a little bit of gradual convincing, and today’s article provides strategies to help with just that.

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Andy is a private practice dietitian and avid nutrition blogger from Toronto, Canada. He holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Toronto and loves spreading the good word on healthy eating through his writing.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself. 

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