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Monday, August 13, 2012

Mediterranean Eating

I recently went on vacation to Europe. I have been a vegetarian since I was 14 and had started considering veganism right before my trip. I desperately wanted to follow a vegan diet while out of town, despite the fact that many told me it was a harder diet to maintain in foreign countries.

I am a very obsessive person and once I put my mind to something, it is very hard to stop me... However, I made the decision within hours of leaving the US that I would have to remain a vegetarian during my time away.

I know what some of you are thinking as you read this. If I truly loved animals.. really cared about the earth.. wasn't so lazy.. was more open-minded.. (the list goes on) then I would find a way to be vegan in other countries.

Don't get me wrong; I am very passionate about promoting plant based eating and I sure as hell don't want to eat in a way that will potentially harm myself and my environment. But I also know that a part of good health is flexibility. No, I don't mean being able to touch your toes. What I mean is working with what you have and being able to adapt in certain situations. Having had some health scares in the past concerning my weight and diet, I decided that the best thing for me was to be flexible on my trip in order to remain healthy and get proper nutrition. There's no such thing as "perfect health". I believe that people should live in a way that works for them individually. 

Although I reverted back to veganism after my trip, I wanted to provide an overview of what I ate- both vegan and vegetarian- to provide and aid for others who are trying to follow restricted diets in other parts of the world.
My trip started in Venice, Italy.

My breakfast most days consisted of hot tea, fruit, and plain yogurt with bran flakes. Italian breakfasts are very different than traditional American breakfasts. I never usually had many options unless I wanted to eat cold cuts and white bread with butter.

I'm not a fan of refined grains and pastas, but I indulged occasionally. I had pumpkin tortellini in Bologna (top) and pumpkin risotto in Florence.
Hey, at least I got some vitamin A!

I'm absolutely addicted to polenta- a staple on most Italian menus.

One of my favorite things about European cuisine is the availability of fresh vegetables. Even many of the Italian train stations had hot bars with plenty of vegan options (middle two pictures).

I had never been to Europe before and didn't know the next time I would be back, so I allowed myself treats that just wouldn't be the same back home. Gelato and cappuccinos were daily splurges for me. 
I was delighted to find a gelateria in Florence that served dairy and sugar-free flavors! I was also able to get soy milk for in some cafes if I requested it.

I tried to always have healthy snacks packed with me on the go, but when in doubt I knew I could find a fruit stand to hold me over until my next meal.

After a week of touring Italy, I boarded a cruise ship to Greece.

I never had to worry about what to eat on the ship. I usually made myself salads consisting of Indian dishes combined with whatever vegetables and legumes were available that day.

Greece had a lot more options that Italy did for vegans and vegetarians. Most of my meals were made up of appetizers, such as the one above. I enjoyed a cabbage and carrot salad, beans, baba ganoush, and dolmades (clockwise).

Mykonos was my favorite island by far. It was beautiful and eclectic with much to offer. I ate lunch at a little restaurant that I found called Piccolo. The food it served was all-natural and delicious. I had hot tea, a salad, and a savory whole grain pastry filled with cream cheese.

Digestive biscuits are very popular in Europe and they just so happen to be vegan. I found some in Greece that were sugar free as well. They were even sweetened with natural sugar alcohols (not nasty chemical sweeteners). 

My next finding was even better than the biscuits. What you see above are a line of chocolates that are reduced-fat and sweetened with stevia! I was beyond excited to find these Belgian-made bars. My family didn't quite understand my enthusiasm but they humored me by getting me a couple to try out.

I got one of every flavor, and was not disappointed. I highly recommend visiting their site and trying some for yourself.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip overseas and was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Being active and eating whole foods are two European principles that I strive to follow daily.

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