Nutritionists Love The Mediterranean Diet Approach For Weight Loss

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The Mediterranean diet is anything but new—it's been around since the 1960s—but it's still hailed by registered dietitians and nutrition experts as one of the healthiest diets. In fact, it was named the Best Diet Overall for 2022 by U.S. News for incorporating a diverse array of nutritious foods.

And you've likely heard all about its benefits: longevity, weight loss, and disease prevention. And more importantly, the diet is super-easy to follow (and stick with!) long-term.

Here's everything you need to know about this popular eating plan.

What is the Mediterranean diet, exactly?

This diet is based on the eating habits of people who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy, and Spain. The residents of these regions are less likely to suffer from cancer and heart disease than Americans. The diet can also help you keep weight off: An American Journal of Medicine found the Mediterranean diet to be just as helpful as low-carb diets for weight loss. Those who follow it fill up on healthy fats, nuts, fruits, and veggies.

"The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fats that are good for your heart, whole grains, nuts or seeds, fruits or vegetables, legumes, and seafood," says Cory Ruth, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist, women's health expert, and CEO of The Women's Dietitian. "It discourages refined grains, added sugar, trans fats, and processed foods."

It can be especially helpful for optimizing heart health, blood sugar control, and brain function. "Research shows that this style of eating may be linked to a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia," Ruth says.

The diet may be the closest thing to drinking from the fountain of youth, according to one 2016 study’s findings presented at a conference in Brussels by the NU-AGE project. Researchers found that eating Mediterranean-style decreased levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker associated with aging. It also lowered the rate of bone loss for participants with osteoporosis.

Can the Mediterranean diet help you lose weight?

While the Mediterranean diet isn’t technically a weight loss system, studies have shown that adding in more fruits and vegetables and cutting down on added sugar and processed foods can lead to better weight control, says Ruth.

It may be the best diet for long-term weight loss. A 2016 study found that people on the Mediterranean diet lost between nine and 22 pounds after a year on it, compared to those on a low-carb diet, who lost between just six and 11 pounds. And a 2018 study found that participants who followed the Mediterranean diet over five years reported less weight gain and abdominal fat than those not on the diet.

What is on the Mediterranean diet food list?

Think of a really decadent Greek salad: tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions make up the bulk of the meal, with pieces of feta cheese and a drizzle of olive oil to complement the crunch. Throw in a couple of anchovies, and you’re golden.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes a lot of fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and olive oil. Fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt (think Greek!) should be consumed in moderation. Many of the people who follow this eating plan will include a glass of red wine with dinner, though this certainly isn’t required.

"While there are no set-in-stone rules to follow when adhering to the Mediterranean diet, there are some more basic guidelines to stick to so that you can ensure your best success at reaping all the health benefits," says Ruth.

The following foods are great picks:

  • Whole grains: Brown rice, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, oats, corn

  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts

  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews

  • Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds

  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, pears, melons, peaches, oranges

  • Vegetables: Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, tomatoes, kale, spinach, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, sweet potatoes

  • Seafood: Fish, shrimp, clams, mussels, oysters

  • Healthy fats: Avocado, olive oil, olives, avocado oil

And don't forget about hydration. "While water is your go-to beverage on the Mediterranean diet, the diet also includes moderate amounts of red wine (around one glass per day) and permits both coffee and tea," says Ruth.

And foods you should eat in moderation include:

  • Chicken

  • Turkey

  • Eggs

  • Cheese

  • Yogurt

  • Milk

Even though this is a diet, physical activity is part of the plan. So, make sure to get in some steps or hit the gym to feel the full effects.

What can't you eat on the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is gentler than strict eating routines that cut out whole food groups. While anything is game when going Mediterranean, meat—especially red meat—and sweets in particular are meant to be reserved for special occasions. Processed foods (like anything you can buy in a box or a bag at the grocery store) are also not traditionally allowed.

Foods to avoid include:

  • Processed snacks, like potato chips and crackers

  • White bread

  • Candy bars, cookies and pastries

  • Processed meats (like hot dogs and sausage)

  • Drinks with added sugar (like soda and many fruit juices)

A Seven-Day Meal Plan On The Mediterranean Diet

Here is a delicious week full of meals and ideas from Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist, Ginger Hultin, RDN, the owner of ChampagneNutrition and author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep and the How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Breakfast flatbread pizza

  • Lunch: Sweet potato toast with caper tapenade

  • Snacks: Healthy anytime zucchini muffins

  • Dinner: Minestrone soup and a side salad with balsamic/olive oil dressing

Day 4

  • Breakfast: Roasted tomato avocado toasts

  • Lunch: Leftover no-noodle vegetarian eggplant lasagna

  • Snacks: Chia seed pomegranate pudding

  • Dinner: Sweet potato toast with caper tapenade and a side salad with lemon/olive oil dressing

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

While the diet is definitely not restrictive, you’ll need to figure out portion size and calories on your own so you don’t overdo it. Here’s what 1,200 calories looks like on the plan. You certainly won’t want to be over-pouring servings of olive oil (one teaspoon has 80 calories), especially if weight loss is your goal.

The bottom line: Following the Mediterranean diet can be good for your waistline, heart, and even brain. If you're ready to jump in, make sure to watch your portions and work out to get the full benefits of this eating plan.

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