The Mediterranean diet and vegan diet are two popular eating plans. Both have been well-studied for their many potential health benefits.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional eating patterns of people in Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy. It’s known for promoting a variety of foods that are both flavorful and nutritious.
Meanwhile, the vegan diet encourages a wide range of plant-based foods and is associated with both health and environmental benefits.
While there are some clear similarities between these two diet plans, you may also wonder how they compare.
This article takes a closer look at the Mediterranean and vegan diets to help you determine which is right for you, if either.
Both the Mediterranean diet and vegan diet include a variety of nutrient-dense plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
The Mediterranean diet also permits animal products in moderation, including poultry, eggs, dairy, and seafood. Red meat and processed meat products like bacon or ham are not excluded but should only be consumed occasionally (
Conversely, vegan diets eliminate all these foods, as well as other animal products like honey, gelatin, and butter. Foods that are cooked in animal fat or contain additives derived from animals should also be avoided, including certain food dyes and flavorings (
Though the Mediterranean diet doesn’t set any strict rules on which foods are and aren’t permitted, it’s generally recommended to limit processed foods, refined grains, and added sugars.
These foods are all allowed on a vegan diet, provided they don’t contain any animal products.
Additionally, there are several other components of the Mediterranean diet that are not emphasized in vegan diets. These include enjoying red wine in moderation, eating a variety of heart-healthy fats, and sharing meals with others whenever possible.
Both the vegan and Mediterranean diets emphasize plant foods, but only the vegan diet eliminates ingredients that contain animal products. The Mediterranean diet limits processed foods, refined grains, and added sugar.
Both Mediterranean and vegan diet plans have been associated with increased weight loss. Some research comparing the two eating patterns suggests that the vegan diet may be more effective (
For instance, a study in 62 adults with overweight found that participants who followed a low fat vegan diet for 16 weeks lost an average of 13.2 pounds (6 kg), whereas participants who followed the Mediterranean diet maintained their weight (5).
Keep in mind that a low fat diet of any type is likely to be low in calories, thereby resulting in weight loss.
Another small study found that people who followed a vegan diet for 4 weeks lost more weight than those who followed the Mediterranean diet for the same duration (
On the other hand, one study showed that after three months, the Mediterranean and vegetarian diets were equally effective at improving levels of certain hormones that regulate energy balance and hunger (
It’s also worth considering that vegan diets are often more restrictive than Mediterranean diets. Thus, they may be harder to stick with long-term, which could negate any potential lasting weight loss effects.
Ultimately, more research is needed to better understand how these two diets compare in terms of weight loss success.
While both diets have been linked to weight loss, some studies suggest that vegan diets may be more effective. However, vegan diets are also more restrictive and may be harder to stick to long-term.
Mediterranean and vegan diets have been associated with several other health benefits besides weight loss. These include improved heart health, brain function, and blood sugar control.
The Mediterranean diet has been studied extensively for its ability to improve heart health and protect against heart disease and stroke (
Vegan and vegetarian diets have also been shown to promote heart health. For instance, they may be linked to lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which are risk factors for heart disease (
One study compared the effects of Mediterranean and vegan diets on heart health. The vegan diet led to greater reductions in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, while the Mediterranean diet was more effective at reducing blood pressure levels (
Another small study had similar findings, noting that the vegan diet reduced total cholesterol levels, while the Mediterranean diet significantly improved the function of the small blood vessels of the heart, indicating that it may reduce heart disease risk (
Ultimately, both diets appear to offer notable heart health and disease-prevention benefits.
Many studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to improved brain function. Some even note that it could help protect against conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (
Similarly, some studies suggest that following a plant-based diet supports good brain function. It’s speculated that this effect may result an improved composition of the beneficial bacteria in your gut (
However, while there is substantial research on the brain-boosting benefits of the Mediterranean diet, studies on the vegan diet’s effects on brain health are limited.
Blood sugar control
The Mediterranean diet and vegan diet both encourage a variety of nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods with the potential to support healthy blood sugar levels (
Both diets have also been associated with improved blood sugar control.
For instance, a review of 15 studies linked the vegan diet with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It was also associated with improved blood sugar control in people with this condition (
Other research suggests that the Mediterranean diet could be tied to improved blood sugar control and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes (
In fact, a large review associated the Mediterranean diet with a 19% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (
Still, more research is needed to directly compare the two diets and determine if one is better for promoting blood sugar control.
Both diets could support heart health and improve blood sugar control. The Mediterranean diet has also been linked to improved brain function, while research on the vegan diet and brain health is limited.
As discussed, the Mediterranean diet and vegan diet have both been linked to a multitude of health benefits, including improved weight loss, heart health, and blood sugar control.
Therefore, it’s worth evaluating your goals and preferences when deciding which is right for you.
Compared with the Mediterranean diet, the vegan diet is more restrictive and focuses largely on which foods to avoid rather than which foods to eat.
As a result, the vegan diet may feel more restrictive and challenging to follow. It can also be associated with a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies, for instance in vitamin B12 and iron, especially without proper planning (
Conversely, the Mediterranean diet encourages enjoying a variety of nutrient-dense ingredients like heart-healthy fats, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
This can make it much easier to stick to long-term while ensuring that you get the vitamins and minerals you need as part of a well-rounded, balanced diet (
The Mediterranean diet also emphasizes other habits that can contribute to overall wellness, such as sharing meals with family or friends.
On a last note, it’s also worth considering that many people choose to follow a vegan diet due to ethical or environmental concerns rather than just personal health (
Both the Mediterranean diet and vegan diet have been linked to several benefits. While some people prefer to follow a vegan diet due to ethical or environmental concerns, it may be easier to meet your nutritional needs on a well-rounded Mediterranean diet.
Both the vegan diet and Mediterranean diet can be nutritious and are associated with many potential health benefits.
They both emphasize nourishing plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
The vegan diet is typically more restrictive and requires careful planning to ensure that your nutritional needs are met. Some aspects of the vegan diet are also less studied compared to the Mediterranean diet, including its effects on brain function.
Be sure to consider factors like your goals, preferences, and priorities to determine if a vegan diet or Mediterranean diet is right for you — or if you should look beyond these two options.
Just one thing
Try this today: If you can’t decide between the vegan diet or the Mediterranean diet, try incorporating some of the principles of both into your eating plan.
Check out this comprehensive guide for a sample Mediterranean menu and simply swap in some plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh, and legumes to create your own custom plan.