Imagine eating filling, delicious meals regularly, including fat-rich dishes, without gaining weight and, in the process, even dropping a few pounds.
Does this sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s the Mediterranean diet.
This style of eating, built around a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grain cereals, nuts and legumes, olive oil, fish, dairy in moderation, and a low intake of sweets, has a wide range of health benefits. Multiple studies have shown the Mediterranean diet lowers the odds of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, and other ills. And now there’s evidence eating a Mediterranean diet rich in healthy fats won’t cause you to gain weight — and it could help keep your weight under control.
University of Barcelona internal medicine expert Ramon Estruch, MD, PhD, and colleagues conducted a study comparing the Mediterranean style of eating to a low-fat diet. They randomly assigned 7,447 men and women to one of three groups — either a non-calorie restricted Mediterranean diet with abundant olive oil, a non-calorie restricted Mediterranean diet loaded with nuts, or a low-fat diet. Dietitians worked with the volunteers to help them stay on track with their food choices. The volunteers were also monitored with questionnaires and blood and urine tests.
When the study began, 90 percent of the survey participants were obese or significantly overweight, and all were either at risk for heart disease or had type 2 diabetes. After five years, everyone had lost some weight. While it wasn’t a significant amount, the greatest weight loss was in the group following the Mediterranean diet that contained generous servings of olive oil, followed by the group who ate the Mediterranean diet with lots of nuts included. Those in the low-fat group lost the least amount of weight and gained more girth around their middle than the Mediterranean diet-eating participants, according to the results of the study, published in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.
The take away message is that total fat content is not a useful measure of whether a food is harmful, and eating a diet rich in healthy fats results of the study the kind found in nuts, fish, and olive oil results of the study doesn’t result in weight gain.
In a commentary that accompanied the study, Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, PhD, wrote that trying to prevent heart disease and obesity by limiting total fat is misguided and ignores the diverse physiological effects of different foods, such as healthy fats in the Mediterranean diet.
“We must abandon the myth that lower-fat, lower-calorie products lead to less weight gain,” wrote Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "Dietary guidelines should be revised to lay to rest the outdated, arbitrary limits on total fat consumption. Calorie-obsessed caveats and warnings about healthier, higher-fat choices such as nuts, phenolic-rich vegetable oils, yogurt, and even perhaps cheese, should also be dropped.”
Of course, this good news about the Mediterranean diet doesn’t mean you can sit around eating nuts all day or dump olive oil on everything you eat and expect to lose weight. But you are likely to have less desire to overeat if you follow this style of eating.
“The Mediterranean diet is simple, involves easy to follow recipes and meals, and is filling and satisfying,” said registered dietitian nutritionist and certified wellness coach Julie Schwartz, RDN. “And there's more focus on positively adding foods — more fruits and veggies — instead of negatively taking certain foods away, which is typical in traditional weight loss plans. Another benefit is that people tend to feel better eating this way and may become more active. So even in the absence of weight loss, it can help improve health.”
The basics of following the Mediterranean diet are straight forward. “Typically, a Mediterranean style of eating incorporates one, possibly two, servings of nuts; using olive oil in place of other oils, switching to seafood from red meat and adding more fresh produce,” said Schwartz, founder of Balanced Nutrition Coach, in Tampa Bay, Fla.
August 19, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN