The Mediterranean Diet and Weight Loss

Olive oil pouring onto a spoon
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The Mediterranean diet has been proven to have multiple health benefits, but is weight loss one of them?

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

Rather than being a fad diet that one chooses solely for the short-term purposes of weight loss, the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle choice, a way of eating for the rest of one’s life. This is the natural style of eating for most of the inhabitants of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea—hence the name.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes consumption of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tree nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, fish and poultry, and wine (particularly red wine) in moderation.

Weight Change with Mediterranean Diet

Many have wondered if the inclusion of higher-than-average amounts of extra-virgin olive oil or nuts in the diet, which has a net result of adding fat to the daily diet—and, essentially, making it a high-fat diet—might result in weight gain.

Surprisingly, however, in the latest results released from the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) trial at the 2015 American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Florida, the higher-fat Mediterranean diet actually showed more weight loss (a little over 2 lbs.) than the low-fat control diet.

Researchers believe that this may be due to the nature of the fats inherent in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil and nuts fall into the category of “good fats,” which are low in saturated fat and high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

They are also high in polyphenols, nutrients which have been found to play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.

Thus, the healthy fats are likely processed and metabolized differently by the human body, and the result is reassuring: eating more of these healthy fats does not result in weight gain at all.

Other Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

In the 1990s, the results of a landmark trial known as the Lyon Diet Heart Study were released. This study looked at 605 patients who had already had a heart attack and followed them for an average of nearly 4 years. The study investigators found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet enriched in alpha-linolenic acid (a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids) had a much lower risk of having another heart attack or dying from heart disease.

Interestingly, in the Lyon Diet Heart Study, not only did the Mediterranean diet lower the risk of recurrent heart disease; it also lowered the overall cancer risk by a whopping 61%.

More recently, in 2013, results from the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) trial were first released. Also a randomized trial, this study looked at patients who had no known cardiovascular disease but were at high risk. The study investigators followed these patients for nearly five years and found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented either with extra-virgin olive oil or with mixed nuts were less likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or death from a cardiac cause than were those study participants who were simply advised to reduce the fat in their daily diets.

Now, further analysis of the PREDIMED trial has shown that following the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil reduced the risk of breast cancer.


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