How to follow a Mediterranean diet to lose weight
If you’ve been thinking about how to follow a Mediterranean diet for weight loss, you probably already know that this way of eating has many proven health benefits.
An ever-growing body of evidence shows that it significantly reduces the risk of developing many chronic diseases. For example, a narrative review published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that following a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes.
When we talk about the mediterranean diet, we mean the traditional food and consumption habits of the inhabitants of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea (such as Greece and Italy). With such a large geographic area, there are naturally variations, but the key principles are the same across the region: cooking from scratch, avoiding highly processed foods, and celebrating meals with loved ones.
Additionally, the diet is largely based on fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, and olive oil. As such, it has many hallmarks of a successful weight loss strategy. Here’s how to make it work for you, if you want to lose weight while staying healthy.
Can the Mediterranean diet help you lose weight?
While the Mediterranean diet is certainly healthy and can help you lose weight as long as you follow a balanced lifestyle, it’s hard to say categorically if it’s better for weight loss than any other diet.
A detailed review published in The American Journal of Medicine, for example, compared the Mediterranean diet to a low-fat diet, a low-carb diet, and the American Diabetes Association diet. He found that they all resulted in a similar level of weight loss and reduction in cardiovascular risk.
Similarly, another review published in the journal Nutrients compared the slimming potential of Mediterranean, Atkins, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), GI (glycemic index), Ornish, Zone and Paleo diets.
The results indicated that only the Atkins diet was able to provide clinically significant results in the short and long term. (However, the researchers pointed out that other diets may be just as effective, or even more so, for weight loss.)
However, that doesn’t mean the Mediterranean diet can’t help you lose weight. Unlike the Atikins Diet, this is also a fairly flexible, non-restrictive approach – more of a lifestyle choice. As a result, it’s relatively easy to introduce minor, long-lasting adjustments that might help bring the scales down.
Depending on your age and lifestyle, the Mediterranean diet might also be particularly helpful. A study published in Nutritionfor example, found it helped postmenopausal women fight obesity, improve cardiovascular and metabolic health, and even experience fewer menopausal symptoms.
What to eat on a Mediterranean diet to lose weight
If you have ever tried to lose weight, you know very well that it is not an easy task. Weight management depends on a series of complex factors, including dietary habits, physical activity levels and health status. Nevertheless, there are a few key principles that will maximize your chances of shedding unwanted pounds on a Mediterranean diet.
By far the most important factor is maintaining a consistent calorie deficit. Daily energy requirements are determined by an individual’s age, sex, height, weight, muscle mass, state of health and level of physical activity. The best way to calculate your calorie needs and track your food intake accordingly is to use a calorie counting app. They’re easy to use, come with a handy barcode scanner, and let you save your favorite recipes, helping you stay accountable.
It’s also crucial to think about your macronutrients. Carbohydrates and fats provide the most energy for the human body and as such low-fat diets or low carb content tends to produce better results. However, the hallmark of the Mediterranean diet is olive oil. Although it has long been credited with a list of health benefits, it is high in calories. To strike a good balance, aim for about three tablespoons of olive oil per day.
Also, consider cutting back on foods high in simple and starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, potatoes, rice, and pasta. Instead, increase your vegetable intake and introduce more beans and legumes, which contain more fiber and complex carbohydrates.
Finally, make sure you have enough good quality protein to fill you up and support your metabolism. Fortunately, this is not a difficult task. The Mediterranean diet contains many excellent sources of protein, including fish, lean white meat, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Be sure to include them with every meal, aiming to fill at least a quarter of your plate with protein foods.
Mediterranean diet for weight loss: Proteins
If you use the Mediterranean diet for weight loss, it may help you increase your protein intake even further, as evidenced by a study in the British Journal of Nutrition.
It is also worth looking into a diet commonly referred to as KEMEPHY (Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet with Phytoextracts). This means following the principles of a Mediterranean diet but with a low carb, high fat and high protein approach.
Research published in BMC Procedures suggested that it triggers more weight loss than a low-calorie Mediterranean diet, while research published in Nutrients showed that results were even better when a KEMEPHY diet was introduced in recurring phases.
What to drink on a Mediterranean diet
When we think of Mediterranean meals, we think of red wine — but if you want to lose weight, it’s best to limit it to an occasional treat and make water your main beverage of choice.
Red wine may have health benefits, but it’s high in calories — a bottle can easily contain up to 700 calories. It’s a good idea to be careful with your alcohol intake, but if you want a drink, try replacing the wine with a glass of slimline gin and tonic, at just 115 calories. And if you’re looking for resveratrol and proanthocyanidins, the main antioxidants in red wine, you can find them in many supplements.
It is also wise to reduce the consumption of whole milk and juice. In the Mediterranean diet, dairy products are used sparingly, mainly in the form of cheese or yogurt. Adding whole milk will unnecessarily increase your saturated fat and calorie intake. Likewise, the Mediterranean diet involves eating lots of fruit, so there is no need to drink fruit juices (which contain large amounts of easily digestible sugar) in addition.
Also, if you’re serious about your weight loss goals, don’t forget about other important factors. Increase your level of physical activity and sweat at least three times a week. Also, make sure you get enough sleep and reduce your stress levels. And stay consistent. You have this.