Episode 50

Grains on the Mediterranean Diet

Published on: 10th April, 2024

The Benefits of Whole Grains in Your Diet

I want to take you back in time. While we talk about the Mediterranean diet not being a diet of culture but a pattern of eating – it still had its origins in the Mediterranean.

The original Mediterranean diet was described as far back as 500 BC in the Ilead. The ancient Greeks ate whole grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, and a bit of fish. Red meat was rare.

While red meat may not have been a dietary staple for the Ancient Greeks, it was consumed during feasts, festivals, and special occasions.

Cows were considered sacred gods, like Zeus, and their slaughter was for religious ceremonies and consumed during feasts

The majority of the population received protein from fish, poultry, legumes, and whole grains.

The First Olympics

This was the diet of the first Olympians, as well as the Romans. Ancient Greeks worshiped the body, as you can see from the statues, as well as our language.

We get the word gym from the Greek word “gymnasion," which translates to a place to exercise naked. But those gyms not only had a place to train but also schools, where literature, philosophy, math, and music were taught, as well as a social gathering place.

We also get Diet from the Greeks, which originates from “diaita,” meaning the “way of life” or a manner of living. The Greeks had a balanced approach to health and well-being, emphasizing diet, exercise, and the mind.

Gym bros and bro science were yet to be invented.

Ancient Grains

Could those Olympians of old who ate diets filled with whole-grain cereals have been wrong? Or could it be that those grains of the past were different from today’s grains?

If you’ve ever been on a “low carb” diet, one of the first food groups you eliminate are grains.

As you dutifully got rid of the last bit of joy in your life, you feel it was the cost to have your weight drop.

You might have thought – "Grains are evil."

Low Carb Life Without Grains

Eating burgers without the bun, breakfast without toast, no pastries, no bread, no pasta, no rice, and you were losing weight. Lots of confirmation bias.

Oh those heady early days of a low carb diet, losing weight, feeling better, maybe even noticing cholesterol improved. Hard to sustain though, and did you ever get tired of steak?

Finding Joy in the Mediterranean Diet

Now you come here and find the best diet is the Mediterranean diet. Lots of peer reviewed literature to support it.

Then you wondered what in grains was evil. The first easy thought was that it all breaks down to glucose, and glucose is evil.

Unless you know biochemistry and realize no, that’s not it. Your body runs on glucose.

It's the Gluten

And maybe you read about celiac disease and gluten as its trigger. Maybe some blogger convinced you that wheat in America is filled with gluten, and this is the problem.

Unable to sustain a low-carb diet, you return to the joy of the morning pastry or dessert, all the while thinking grains are what caused the weight to return.

Now you come to the Mediterranean Diet, and whole grains, not refined grains, are on the menu.

Still, you are suspicious, and you think – maybe it was the gluten.

Celiac Disease

Or what happens if you come to the Mediterranean diet and have Celiac disease and gluten causes horrific issues?

But should we all avoid gluten? And can we have a Mediterranean diet if we must be gluten-free?

Should the ancient Greeks become Carnivores instead of those grizzly men who are on a diet now associated with the healthiest people on planet Earth?

Clearly not. Eating too much red meat is associated with increasing heart disease and cancer, while the Mediterranean diet is associated with less heart disease and cancer.

Carnivore's Take

Carnivores like pointing to the ancient wrestler Milo of Croton, who ate twenty pounds of meat a day. They fail to mention that he also ate twenty pounds of bread and drank 18 pints of wine while training. Funny, they all talk about the meat. –There are always outliers, and Milo was one.

When Milo trained, he carried a calf, and as the creature grew, he kept carrying it. He won about six Olympic medals (560 BC).

While we don’t know details, it is odd he ate meat, since his mentor Pythagoras – of the theorem – thought eating meat was unhealthy and made people wage war.

Grains are Evil - "They" Say

And despite what the low-carb and carnivore community tells you, Whole grains have been associated with decreased risk of diabetes, less obesity, and lower rates of cancer and heart disease.

Whole grains have a lot of fiber. In fact, whole grains are one of the fiber rich portions of the foods you eat.

Gluten is a protein found in many grains, like wheat, but not all grains.  Do you know how to stretch dough? Like pizza, the reason you can do it is gluten.

For most of us, gluten isn’t an issue. But for about one percent of the population, gluten can exacerbate an auto-immune response against your small bowel.

If you have celiac disease...

If you have celiac disease and have gluten in your diet, your bowel will be harmed. Thus, you will not effectively absorb nutrients. Many with celiac disease have anemia from an inability to absorb iron.

Most patients with celiac disease will feel bloated with gas, sometimes diarrhea, or even constipation. They might have chronic fatigue or weakness due to a lack of nutrients. In children, it often leads to weight loss. In adults, it can manifest in weight gain.

The symptoms are vague and not specific, but they are part of a history that we see with our patients.

Gluten-free for Everyone

Since the symptoms are so general, many people advocate a gluten-free diet. Some have written books about how gluten causes issues in everyone, and we should avoid it. This is incorrect, but it does sell a lot of books.

Incorporating Gluten-Free Whole Grains

Here are some easy ways to add gluten-free whole grains to your Mediterranean-inspired meals:

  1. Quinoa: Swap traditional grains like couscous with quinoa in salads, pilafs, or stuffed vegetables. Quinoa is a complete protein and offers a nutty flavor that complements Mediterranean ingredients well.
  2. Brown Rice: Use brown rice instead of traditional pasta in dishes like risotto, stir-fries, or alongside grilled fish or chicken. Brown rice provides a hearty texture and adds a dose of fiber to your meal.
  3. Millet: Experiment with millet in place of bulgur wheat in tabbouleh salads or use it as a base for grain bowls topped with roasted vegetables and a drizzle of olive oil.
  4. Buckwheat: Incorporate buckwheat flour into your baking for gluten-free bread, pancakes, or crepes. You can also use cooked buckwheat groats as a nutritious alternative to traditional grains in salads or as a side dish.
  5. Amaranth: Add amaranth to soups, stews, or porridge for a nutrient-packed boost. Its slightly nutty flavor pairs well with Mediterranean spices and herbs.

My favorite is oatmeal. But make sure you get oats that were ground away from wheat. Bob’s Red Mill has a gluten free oat that you can use. Since oats are a staple of my morning breakfast you might find these a great choice.


Finally, corn is a whole grain. Good to add to salads, and my favorite cowboy caviar dish.

By incorporating gluten-free whole grains into your Mediterranean diet, you can enjoy a diverse range of flavors and textures while reaping the nutritional benefits of these wholesome ingredients. Whether you're looking to support digestive health, manage blood sugar levels, or simply explore new culinary horizons, there's a gluten-free whole grain waiting to elevate your next meal.


Whole grains are a powerhouse of nutrition, offering a range of health benefits that make them an essential part of a balanced diet.

Why Gluten-Free Whole Grains?

But what if you have celiac disease and cannot tolerate gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in many grains. It is responsible for stretching dough, like pizza.

If you do not have a problem with gluten, there is no reason to avoid gluten.  But if you have celiac disease, gluten must be avoided.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is renowned for its focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. By incorporating gluten-free whole grains into this already nutritious diet, you can further enhance its health benefits while catering to dietary restrictions or preferences.


By incorporating gluten-free whole grains into your Mediterranean diet, you can enjoy a diverse range of flavors and textures while reaping the nutritional benefits of these wholesome ingredients. Whether you're looking to support digestive health, manage blood sugar levels, or simply explore new culinary horizons, there's a gluten-free whole grain waiting to elevate your next meal.

Next Episode All Episodes Previous Episode
Show artwork for Fork U with Dr. Terry Simpson

About the Podcast

Fork U with Dr. Terry Simpson
Learn more about what you put in your mouth.
Fork U(niversity)
Not everything you put in your mouth is good for you.

There’s a lot of medical information thrown around out there. How are you to know what information you can trust, and what’s just plain old quackery? You can’t rely on your own “google fu”. You can’t count on quality medical advice from Facebook. You need a doctor in your corner.

On each episode of Your Doctor’s Orders, Dr. Terry Simpson will cut through the clutter and noise that always seems to follow the latest medical news. He has the unique perspective of a surgeon who has spent years doing molecular virology research and as a skeptic with academic credentials. He’ll help you develop the critical thinking skills so you can recognize evidence-based medicine, busting myths along the way.

The most common medical myths are often disguised as seemingly harmless “food as medicine”. By offering their own brand of medicine via foods, These hucksters are trying to practice medicine without a license. And though they’ll claim “nutrition is not taught in medical schools”, it turns out that’s a myth too. In fact, there’s an entire medical subspecialty called Culinary Medicine, and Dr. Simpson is certified as a Culinary Medicine Specialist.

Where today's nutritional advice is the realm of hucksters, Dr. Simpson is taking it back to the realm of science.

About your host

Profile picture for Terry Simpson

Terry Simpson

Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate, graduate, and medical degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. Until he found he liked people more than petri dishes. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2018 and 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.”