The aim: May include weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention and control.
The claim: You’ll lose weight, keep it off and avoid a host of chronic diseases.
The theory: It’s generally accepted that the folks in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea live longer and suffer less than most Americans from cancer and cardiovascular ailments. The not-so-surprising secret is an active lifestyle, weight control, and a diet low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat and high in produce, nuts and other healthful foods.
It depends – there isn’t “a” Mediterranean diet. Greeks eat differently from Italians, who eat differently from the French and Spanish. But they share many of the same principles. Working with the Harvard School of Public Health, Oldways, a nonprofit food think tank in Boston, developed a consumer-friendly Mediterranean diet pyramid that emphasizes eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and flavorful herbs and spices; fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week; and poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation, while saving sweets and red meat for special occasions. Top it off with a splash of red wine (if you want), remember to stay physically active and you’re set.
[Also check out the Mayo Clinic Diet, which features a two-part approach to losing weight.]
Because this is an eating pattern – not a structured diet – you’re on your own to figure out how many calories you should eat to lose or maintain your weight, what you’ll do to stay active and how you’ll shape your Mediterranean menu.
WHAT CAN I EAT?
A stack of pancakes with blueberries.
Yogurt with strawberries and blueberries.
Greek Pasta Salad With Fusilli, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Black Olives and Feta in an Oil and Vinegar Dressing.
Chicken Souvlaki Pita Wrap with Lettuce, Tomatoes, Red Onions, Feta Cheese, Tzatziki Sauce and a Side of Greek Salad.
A scoop of almonds.
Grilled fillet of wild salmon and salad.
Quinoa spinach eggplant feta salad.
Glasses of vegan mousse au chocolat and bittersweet chocolate on wood.
Mussels saute in a bowl
Homemade pumpkin soup in a bowl.
Potato wedges in a bowl.
A high angle close up shot of several slices of chocolate chip banana bread and milk being poured in the background. Slices of whole banana on top
How much does it cost?
A woman chooses vegetables at a farmer’s market.
How Eating Your Veggies Saves You Money
Like most aspects of the diet, it depends. While some ingredients (olive oil, nuts, fish and fresh produce in particular) can be expensive, you can find ways to keep the tab reasonable – especially if you’re replacing red meats and meals with plant-based home cooking, some research suggests. Your shopping choices matter, too. Can’t spring for the $50 bottle of wine? Grab one for $15 instead. And snag whatever veggies are on sale that day, rather than the $3-a-piece artichokes.
Will you lose weight?
While some people fear that eating a diet like the Mediterranean diet that is relatively rich in fats (think olive oil, olives, avocado and some cheese) will keep them fat, more and more research is suggesting the opposite is true. Of course, it depends on which aspects you adopt and how it compares to your current diet. If, for instance, you build a “calorie deficit” into your plan – eating fewer calories than your daily recommended max or burning off extra by exercising – you should shed some pounds. How quickly and whether you keep them off is up to you.
Here’s a look at a few studies addressing weight loss:
A 2016 study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal that analyzed data from Predimed – a five-year trial including 7,447 adults with Type 2 diabetes or at risk for cardiovascular disease who were assigned either a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil, the same diet supplemented with nuts or a control diet – found that people on the Mediterranean versions added the fewest inches to their waistlines. The olive oil folks lost the most weight.
A 2010 study in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism assigned 259 overweight diabetics to one of three diets: a low-carb Mediterranean diet, a traditional Mediterranean diet or a diet based on recommendations from the American Diabetes Association. All groups were told to exercise 30 to 45 minutes at least three times per week. After a year, all groups lost weight; the traditional group lost an average of about 16 pounds while the ADA group dropped 17 pounds and the low-carb group lost 22 pounds.
Another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008, assigned 322 moderately obese adults to one of three diets: calorie-restricted low-fat; calorie-restricted Mediterranean; and non-calorie-restricted low-carb. After two years, the Mediterranean group had lost an average of 9 7/10 pounds; the low-fat group, 6 4/10 pounds; and the low-carb group, 10 3/10 pounds. Although weight loss didn’t differ greatly between the low-carb and Mediterranean groups, both lost appreciably more than the low-fat group did.
A 2008 analysis of 21 studies in the journal Obesity Reviews concluded the jury is still out on whether following the Mediterranean diet will lead to weight loss or a lower likelihood of being overweight or obese.