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The History of Mediterranean Vegetarian Food

Mediterranean Vegetarian Food

There is more to a Mediterranean meal than mere nourishment. Mediterranean cuisine has endured because it prioritizes leisure over food and socializing at dinners, two defining features of the Mediterranean lifestyle. 


People still spend more time eating in the Mediterranean region than anywhere else. Though modern life has changed the way mealtimes occur and the sequence of dishes, people commit to eating better and drinking better. From Egypt to Italy, street food is rich and varied and acts as a social marker: you can buy fried, grilled, or other cooked dishes on the spot or take them home.


The Origins of Vegetarian Food in the Mediterranean

Mediterranean culture and diet originated in a part of the world historians count as the “cradle of society” because the history of ancient Asia took shape in its borders. A great civilization evolved in the Nile valley, along with the two great basins of the Tigris and Euphrates, where the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians flourished.

During the rise of the Cretans, Phoenicians, and Greeks, the Mediterranean became a ‘good land’ that linked the East and the West. Even their eating habits partially merged because of the clash of cultures. Medieval eating habits led to the loss of the origins of the Mediterranean Diet


Oil, bread and wine, the monastic orders instead exported the triad of the vegetarian Mediterranean food to the continents of Europe to evangelize people. Oil, bread, and wine made up the core of the Christian liturgy until it changed to feed the ordinary people of Western Europe. 


Muslims helped influence the food model by introducing previously unavailable species for the wealthiest classes because of high prices. 


Examples are:

  • Sugar cane
  • Rice
  • Citrus
  • Eggplant
  • Spinach
  • Spices
  • Rosewater
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Almonds
  • Pomegranates


Another exciting historical event was the European discovery of America. The discovery was clear in eating new foods, such as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, peppers, chilis, and beans. The tomato was the first red vegetable to enrich our basket of plants as a “curious exotic fruit” and became a symbol of Mediterranean cuisine.



It is important to remember that vegetables are one of the most original characters in the Mediterranean tradition. Still, cereals were a weapon of daily survival since they “filled” the hunger pangs of the poor classes, reducing their stress levels. You can consume cereal in various forms, from bread to polenta to couscous to soup to paella.


Romans consumed a wide range of vegetable products, including:

  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Asparagus
  • Celery
  • Artichokes 


As well as many fruit varieties, including:

  • Figs
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Plums
  • Peaches
  • Apricots
  • Citrus fruits

Almonds, chestnuts, and walnuts were also common foods during the period.

Vegetarian Mediterranean Diet
Hearty Vegetables Perfect for Mediterranean Cuisine

How Did It Grow In Popularity?


The Mediterranean diet developed when the Moors conquered Spain in the eighth century. A wide variety of products quickly spread across the Mediterranean basin, like rice, lemons, eggplants, saffron, and spices. Moorish rule ended in 1492 when Christopher Columbus navigated the New World and returned with tomatoes and peppers to Spain, which was now a vital part of the Mediterranean diet.


With the work of other researchers and colleagues involved in the seven-country study, Ancel Keys and Flaminio Fidanza could define and promote the eating pattern used in Italy and Greece in the 1950s and ’60s, now known as the Mediterranean Diet. Study participants came from four cohorts in South Europe: Crete and Corfu in Greece, Dalmatia in Croatia, and Montegiorgio in Italy.


Following the seven-country study, many other researchers have examined the health effects of traditional diets from Greece, southern Italy, and Dalmatia. The Lyon Diet Heart Study was the first clinical trial to analyse the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for tackling heart disease. Medi-RIVAGE, DIRECT, Esposito and his colleagues, and PREDIMED, an intervention trial in Spain, are other trials.


For example, the Greek epidemiologist Dimitrios Trichopoulos developed the Mediterranean Diet Score in 1995, which has changed many times and applied to observational studies as a practical measuring tool. Since they base the score on population medians or, in some studies, tertiles of highest or lowest intakes, it is not the same in each study.


What Makes Mediterranean Vegetarian Food Special?


In case you are undecided about eating more Mediterranean, think about the weight of research. A recent meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition revealed that following a Mediterranean diet reduces your overall risk of death by 5 percent.


Also worth noting: In a study of over 26,000 women, those who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet (vegetarian or not) were up to 28 percent less likely to get heart disease. Several antioxidant compounds in foods hallmarks of the diet (fruits, nuts, extra virgin olive oil) help repair heart-harming free radical damage.


While maintaining a healthy heart and living a longer life is essential, reaching your ideal weight is likely a powerful motivation. It is possible to lose and maintain weight without feeling deprived if you follow this eating approach. 


For eight weeks, researchers at Harvard University and Emory University followed obese and overweight adults eating the Mediterranean diet, along with a control group eating a standard American diet supplemented with fish oil, walnuts, and grape juice – foods essential to the Mediterranean diet. When compared to those in the control group, participants in the Mediterranean diet lost more weight, lowered their levels of inflammatory markers, and lowered their total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.


For those with chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, dietitians often recommend Mediterranean-style diets. Although the American Heart Association deems this diet heart healthy, it points out that it contains more fat than you should consume (though it is still low in unhealthy saturated fat). Changing your diet can be healthy, but like anything else, talk to your doctor first if you’re changing your diet or using the Mediterranean diet in your treatment plan for a disease.


Join us in the heart of New York City to experience the special joy that comes with a Mediterranean cuisine.