In recent years, the Mediterranean diet has emerged as one of the healthier eating patterns out there. Now, a new study suggests that the ‘green’ Med diet (which features even more plant-based foods) may be even better for health than the traditional Mediterranean diet.
It’s not exactly a diet in the strict sense — it’s rather a set of eating habits inspired by Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy, or Greece. The diet can’t be strict because there’s no one single ‘Mediterranean’ way of eating — it varies from country to country and even from area to area. Some even argue that it’s not only about what you eat, but also about how you eat.
The general idea, however, is that you’re supposed to eat a lot of plant foods: fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, beans, whole cereals and grains. When or if you do eat meat, it’s fish and maybe chicken — red meat doesn’t have a central spot in the Mediterranean diet.
Although scientists are still debating just how good the Mediterranean diet is, most studies seem to suggest that it’s quite healthy. A 2017 review of studies found evidence that practicing a Mediterranean diet could lead to a decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases, overall cancer incidence, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, and early death. Another 2018 review echoed the findings, reporting that the Mediterranean diet may improve overall health status.
Now, a new study reports that, when it comes to weight loss at least, the ‘green sister’ of the Mediterranean may hold even more benefits.
Fiber, healthy fats, and polyphenols, are thought to be the key to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. In a new study, researchers wanted to see whether an even higher intake of these compounds (and an even lower red meat intake) is even better. They randomly assigned 294 sedentary and moderately obese people into three dietary groups:
- the first group only received a guide on how to achieve a healthy diet and boost their physical activity;
- the second group received the same guide, plus advice on following a calorie-restricted Mediterranean diet (1500-1800 kcal/day for men and 1200-1400 kcal/ day for women);
- the third group received the same thing as the second group, but featuring a green version of the Mediterranean diet (the so-called green Med).
Specifically, the green Med diet included 28 g/day walnuts, 3-4 cups/day of green tea, an avoidance of red meat, and 100 g frozen cubes of Wolffia globosa (cultivated Mankai strain), a high protein form of the aquatic plant duckweed, to substitute animal protein.
After six months, the researchers checked up on the participants. All three groups lost weight, but the results were striking: the healthy diet participants (first group) lost 1.5 kg. The Mediterranean diet participants lost 5.4 kg. Lastly, the green Med participants lost 6.2 kg. Waist circumference also shrank by 4.3 cm, 6.8 cm, and 8.6 cm respectively. Similar drops were also observed for cholesterol.
It’s still a small-scale study, but the results warrant further investigation, researchers say.
“Education and encouragement to follow a green Med dietary pattern in conjunction with physical activity has the potential to be a major contributor to public health as it may improve balancing of cardiovascular risk factors, eventually preventing cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” the authors note in the study.
The dietary results of the Mediterranean diet have not always been clear, as is often the case in nutritional studies. However, this could be at least in part owed to the many varieties of the Mediterranean diet. If many of the benefits come from a subset of Mediterranean foods, it could be worth exploring particular variants of the Mediterranean diet.
Ultimately though, both types of Mediterranean diet seem to offer significant advantages when it comes to weight loss. Reducing your calorie intake is obviously one of the first things that gets recommended for weight loss, but some diets make it easier than others — and are also healthier than others.
“Our findings suggest that additional restriction of meat intake with a parallel increase in plant-based, protein-rich foods, may further benefit the cardiometabolic state and reduce cardiovascular risk, beyond the known beneficial effects of the traditional Mediterranean diet,” the study concludes.
The study has been published in the British Medical Journal.