Docs, nutritionists, and Pinterest boards alike love to push the Mediterranean diet. And for good reason: Research shows that the diet slows aging, reduces the risk of heart disease, and may even fight cancer. Plus, it includes red wine!
’Nuff said, right? Not really.
For a lot of women, all of those health benefits don’t mean much if the diet doesn’t help them get to a healthy weight. We talked to Dr Wesley Delbridge, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to find out if the diet can help you work towards your weight-loss goals.
Despite its name, there’s really no “one” Mediterranean diet, says Delbridge. There are no strict macronutrient or caloric guidelines, no outlawed foods, and no “you have to eat this or else” ingredients. It's more of a rough sketch of what people in Greece and southern Italy ate around 1960, when the Mediterranean region boasted some of the world’s lowest rates of chronic disease and longest life expectancies. Cha-ching!
During this time, researchers found that most people within the Mediterranean region followed a whole-food, plant-based diet that emphasized filling up on fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. They also ate fish and seafood at least twice a week. Their meals included a ton of herbs and spices, along with a moderate amount of olive oil for flavouring, and modest servings of poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt. It scaled back considerably on both desserts and red meat, but included daily red wine consumption. Processed foods were basically nonexistent.
If you eat like that, then you’re on a Mediterranean diet.
Will It Help You Lose Weight?
Yep. And it even leads to better long-term weight loss than low-fat diets, according to a 2016 review published in The American Journal of Medicine. What’s more, if you break down the diet, research shows that many of its components, like swapping out refined grains for whole ones and eating more fruits and veggies, are linked to weight loss, says Delbridge.
“The diet isn’t about any one magic food or formula,” he says. “It comes down to eating healthy foods in healthy portion sizes. With the Mediterranean diet, you're consuming lots of protein, fiber, whole carbohydrates, unsaturated fats, and lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You're eating foods in their most natural state.”
That pretty much explains why everyone and their mom has recommended the diet to those at risk for heart disease, diabetes, dementia, or cancer. You know, because it’s actually good for you, he says.
It's a novel concept amidst a never-ending array of fad diets, huh?
Make It Work for You
The Mediterranean diet isn't a strict, rule-based diet. Instead, it allows for a lot of customization, which we love. So if you’re lactose or gluten intolerant and want to forgo dairy or wheat, that’s OK. If you looooove yogurt, go ahead and ramp up your yogurt intake, says Delbridge. In the end, the best diet is one that you can stick with for the rest of your life. #YouDoYou
However, there’s a fine line between making the Mediterranean diet work for you and totally veering off course. Here are some of Delbridge’s top tips for following a Mediterranean diet, no matter what:
1. Limit your intake of processed foods as much as possible.
2. Make veggies half of every meal.
3. Eat seafood at least twice per week.
4. Swap refined grains for whole ones.
5. Increase your intake of beans, lentils, and other legumes.
6. Limit portion sizes (e.g. pasta should be a side dish, not a main dish!).
7. Incorporate plant-based fats like olive oil and avocado into every meal.
8. Eat lean proteins over fatty ones.