Among all the different diets in existence, there are a few that has been studied quite extensively over a period of time. We have the Atkins Diet, the Vegetarian Diet, and the Paleo Diet just to name a few. Out of the bunch however, one has gotten a lot of praise over the years. We’re talking about the Mediterranean Diet.
This diet has been around for over 20 years and has always been something that health enthusiasts touted as one of the “better”, if not the “best” diet. What makes this diet stand out from the other popular diets? What does it focus on that other diets don’t that makes it different? If it’s such a successful diet according to some, how come it hasn’t been adopted by the majority of the public? What does science say about the health effects of this diet? And is this diet the best diet to lose weight/body fat?
Those are all some very valid questions, and rightfully so. Our diet is one of the most, if not the most important factor in our health. What we put into our bodies are used directly to fuel our everyday activities and vital functions.
Before we answer those questions, let’s dive in and see what the Mediterranean Diet is all about first.
The Mediterranean Diet… Or Lifestyle?
The Mediterranean Diet originated from Europe in the countries around the Mediterranean Basin. Countries such as Spain, Italy, and Greece are a few of the countries with many of its residence living according to this lifestyle.
Wait, did he just say lifestyle?
Yes, this “diet” involves more than just eating. It also encompasses how much physical exercise and the general type of lifestyle that one leads. For the sake of familiarity, we’ll be addressing this lifestyle as the Mediterranean Diet, but do know that it involves much more than just food.
Over the years, this diet has changed somewhat to make it easier for people to embrace. The most notable change is the focus on the food aspect of the diet. Trying to change our lifestyle can be dramatic for some, and nearly impossible for those with little willpower. By focusing only on the food side, it seems much more inviting.
So in consideration of how this diet has been perceived by many, we’ll consider the food aspect of it first. Don’t worry, everything else will come later.
The original Mediterranean Diet followed several principles that carried over into all the food choices that we can make. The major principles are as follows:
- Regular consumption of virgin olive oil
- Majority of foods from vegetables, fruits, and legumes
- Intake of natural, unrefined carbohydrates
- Regular consumption of fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, etc.)
- Intake of dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs)
- Moderate consumption of organic meats
- Small amounts of wine each day
- Snacks consists of mostly nuts
These are the basic guidelines that all who adheres to the diet follows. Many of these principles are combined in the meals that are prepared. It might seem that the amount of food choices become very limited, there are actually a lot of different combinations of meals.
For example, a meal may consist of a piece of salmon seared in virgin olive oil with a side of roasted vegetables with melted cheese on top, followed by a small glass of red wine. That is a classic Mediterranean dish right there!
There are also many different types of nuts that can be used as snacks. Some of the common nuts are almonds, walnuts, and pecans. The more fatty and calorically dense nuts like brazil nuts (my favorite) and macadamia nuts pack a real punch when it comes to healthy fats and nutrients. And because of their fat content, it doesn’t take a whole lot to feel satisfied. Yogurt could also be used as a snack as well.
Foods such as rice, beans, and sometimes bread (preferably fermented) are the main sources of carbohydrates. According to this diet, the amount should depend on the activity level of the individual (more carbs for more active ones and vice versa).
Meats, especially red meat, are consumed in moderation. This allows for the steak lovers the occasional treat and keeps the taste buds active.
What Not To Eat
So great, now we know what we should be eating. What about foods that we should not eat? Knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing what to look for. Below is a list of a few major no-no’s on this diet. Be aware that this is not all inclusive, and just like the last section, are just principles to follow. Use your judgement when you’re unsure.
- Processed Meats (hot dogs, burgers, etc.)
- Sodas and other beverages with artificial flavors
- Anything not produced by nature (breakfast cereal, pop tarts, etc)
- Heavy consumption of alcohol or red meat
- Hydrogenated oils and trans fats
- Refined carbohydrates (white bread, ramen noodles, etc.)
These are just a few of the baddies to avoid. They encompass a wide variety of the foods that flood the supermarkets today. It’s rather easy to find things we should avoid but difficult to find what’s healthy for us. Really, the irony in “super”market.
If all of this seem to be rather daunting to remember, here’s a simple rule to keep in mind.
Better safe than sorry.
Although it’s not like we’ll have a heart attack from eating a single loaf of processed white bread. But if there are foods that we feel are on the borderline and are not too sure, just skip it. Then do some digging and find out if it fits into our diet here. Since almost all the foods on this diet is bought and then prepared at home, you won’t be missing out on much by skipping on something.
Best Diet to Lose Weight?
Now that we got the basics out of the way, here’s the question that a lot of us have been dying to know the answer to? Is the Mediterranean Diet the best diet to lose weight? Is it even effective in doing that? If we recall from some of the past articles on weight loss and fat loss (Must Read, Must Read, and Must Read), we would know that fat loss involves a whole lot more than just the foods we eat.
Since the Mediterranean Diet doesn’t have strict rules on meal frequencies or when to eat specific types of foods, we’ll focus on just the effects of the diet in general on our health. It does advocate snacking on nuts when hungry but that doesn’t necessarily equate to a high meal frequency.
So let’s consider some of the science and what has been proven about this diet.
Effect Of Foods
In a study published just last month, 7,447 individuals with either type 2 diabetes or 3 or more cardiovascular risk factors were studied over a period of 5 years. This group of people were separated into 3 groups; 1 group eating a Mediterranean Diet supplemented with virgin olive oil; 1 group eating a Mediterranean Diet supplemented with nuts; and 1 group on a low-fat diet as a control group.
The majority of the foods were to come from vegetables in the Mediterranean Diet groups. There was no calorie restrictions on any of the 3 groups.
During the follow-up, body weight and waist circumference measurements were used as a gauge of the weight loss effectiveness of this diet. What the researchers found was quite surprising.
All participants in all 3 groups showed both weight gains and an increase in waist circumference. What?! I thought the Mediterranean is supposed to help us slim down? Let’s take a look at the data before drawing conclusions.
Compared with the control group on the low-fat diet, the olive oil group had 0.43 kg (0.94 lb) less average weight gain and 0.55 cm (0.21 in) less average increase in waist circumference. The nuts group (not their mental state, but their diet) had 0.08 kg (0.17 lb) less average weight gain and 0.94 cm (0.37 in) less average increase in waist circumference compared to the control group¹.
So what does any this tell is? They all still gained weight and wist circumference, which is indicative of body fat? Why would any of us want to go on this diet? The key point here is the control group of low-fat dieters. They had the greatest weight gain on a low-fat diet.
Keep in mind that no exercise regimen or physical activity level recommendations were given to any of the participants in all 3 groups. And with no calorie restrictions in the place, all 3 groups were free to eat as much as they had wanted. This shows that the Mediterranean Diet helps with weight control and increase in body fat when compared with other diets, most of which advocate low-fat foods.
What About Health?
What good is diet that helps us lose weight but also our health in the process? We might as well just starve indefinitely if that’s the case!
Sidenote: Fasting actually has very beneficial effects on the human body when implemented properly. This will be explained in a future article in detail.
Let’s consider a study published by The American Journal of Medicine in December 22, 2015. 998 individuals that were either overweight or obese were put onto one of four diets; the low-fat diet, the low-carb diet, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet, and the Mediterranean Diet. The results?
Although no trial period duration was given, those on the Mediterranean Diet, low-carb diet, and the ADA diet all lost between 9 to 22 pounds in body weight. Those on the low-fat diet however, lost between 6 to 11 pounds in body weight. Additionally, those on the Mediterranean Diet decreased their risk of heart attack and stroke by a whopping 30%²!
It is no coincidence that those in Europe, Middle East and Northern Africa that lives the Mediterranean Diet has some of the highest life expectancy in the world.
But as said before, food is just one part of this “diet”. It more of a lifestyle than just being selective with what we eat.
Now that we’ve established the weight loss effects and health benefits of the food aspect, let’s see what else the this diet has to offer.
More Than Just Food
The Mediterranean Diet involves lifestyle guidelines, not strict rules. One of the leading principles is living a stress-free, or minimal stress lifestyle.
For a lot of us, a stress-free lifestyle is something we want to have, but may not feel like a choice. Our jobs, families, and other responsibilities can often be stress inducing, and they’re not something we can, or may want to get away from. This can be frustrating because it feels like with all the stress, we can’t live a fully healthy life.
The important factor to remember is balance. Not all of us, maybe none of us, will be able to achieve perfect health. Keep in mind what your goals are. If all you want in life is to live as healthy of a lifestyle as possible at the cost of everything else, then you may forgo a lot of responsibilities that activities to achieve that.
But for most of us, our family and friends are an important part in our life. So make sure that we have balance when trying to juggle between leaving stress-free things behind and that of what’s really important to us.
Promotion Of Physical Activity
Another one of the principles of this lifestyle is the physical and mental activity that is involved. No direct prescription is given as far as how much or for how long we should exercise. But a good rule of thumb I personally follow is to do something that makes us run out of breath for a few minutes each day.
It doesn’t have to be as intense as a HIIT session, but it should challenge you somewhat. And this can be done regardless of our level of fitness. Just make sure you’re healthy enough for the exercise that you choose to do.
Mental activity is another great resource to have in our daily routine. Just like our bodies, our brains fits in the category of “Use It or Lose It”. We don’t have to be studying up on astrophysics or memorize the dictionary on a regular basis (although it wouldn’t hurt).
Just like physical activity, do something that’s a bit challenging on a mental level. Something that requires us to think of an answer for. Something that doesn’t just come intuitively to us. Maybe even something that requires a bit of research and effort in finding the answer to. Having your focus directed to a certain task also makes life much more interesting 🙂
You Get What You Put In
This is all I have to do right? Following those guidelines for eating and living will get me to the weight and body fat percentage I want? This is no problem!
Well, there is one last piece to this puzzle, and it’s the common piece in any endeavor worth pursuing. It is also the most important piece of all: You get what you put in.
“Hard Work Pays Off, You Get What You Put In…” – Juelz Santana
It’s great to have the attitude that this is easy to follow. Especially now that we have the knowledge on how to implement this diet, we have the confidence to do it properly.
We need to also have it in the back of our minds that our hard work is what provides us with the results, not necessarily the diet, exercise, lifestyle, etc. itself.
Do not ever forget that you are in complete control of your fate and your results. So if you’re interested in the Mediterranean Diet, or any other self-improvement missions for that matter, go at it with this in mind.
The Weak Link
So to answer the ultimate question: Is the Mediterranean Diet the best diet to lose weight and body fat? Well, technically, I would have to say no. Almost everything the diet recommends are great, and are part of my lifestyle. But there is one thing that I personally don’t agree with, and there’s science to prove it.
The consumption of grains, whole or not, is completely unnecessary. Matter of fact, it’s not only unnecessary, but actually harmful to our health. This will be discussed in the next article.
But because of this, I cannot say that the Mediterranean Diet is the best diet to lose weight or body fat. But it is a needle in the haystack of diets nevertheless. It can definitely help a lot of us lose the unwanted body fat and improve our cardiovascular health.
Do I recommend this diet? Yes, I do. Does it help lose body fat? Of course it does, depending on our current body fat levels. Is it the best diet to lose weight? Technically, no it’s not, but it’s definitely up there.
So are you interested in trying this out? If you have already or are currently on it, what has been your experience?
- “Effect of a High-fat Mediterranean Diet on Bodyweight and Waist Circumference: A Prespecified Secondary Outcomes Analysis of the PREDIMED Randomised Controlled Trial.” Thelancelot.com. N.p., 6 June 2016. Web.
- “Mediterranean Diet Beats Low-fat Diet for Long-term Weight Loss – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. N.p., Apr. 2016. Web. 02 July 2016.