The Mediterranean Diet Demystified

Picture paradise. . .

Breath-taking scenery, sun drenched beaches, mouth-watering food, lazy days and perfect health.

For many of us caught up in the treadmill of 21st century living, that perception is as far off as the sun is from the moon.

Yet, for centuries, the inhabitants of the 16 countries surrounding the Mediterranean have been experiencing just such a lifestyle – and reaping the benefits of vitality, vigour and weight management.

More and more people around the world have been joining them, not just to achieve optimum health but to shed excess body fat.

Along with the Western world’s fascination of all things Mediterranean, has come a catalogue of confusion.

Because it’s unlike the traditional reduced calorie diet that we’ve become accustomed to, many people are left scratching their heads as to just how to implement the Mediterranean diet into their lifestyle.

Can you explain the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet encompasses a lifestyle of healthy choices.

To tie all of the elements together, the Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust created the Mediterranean Food Guide Pyramid. It is based on the dietary traditions found on the island of Crete and southern Italy in the early 1960’s (at this time Cretans were found to be among the healthiest people on earth).

At the base of the pyramid are foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds and whole grains. These are the foods that can be eaten every day.

The next level up is white meat, fish and seafood and eggs. Consume these several times a week. Cheese and yogurt are next, followed by meats and sweets at the very top of the pyramid indicating that they should be consumed sparingly.

The pyramid also recommends consuming the following on a daily basis:

  • A glass of red wine
  • 6-8 glasses of water

The Pyramid places a priority on fun activities, time shared with family and friends and daily exercise. These activities underpin the base of the pyramid.

Do I need to count calories?

The calorie is at the heart of weight loss. Despite the billions of words that have been written on the subject, removing fat from your body boils down to one simple premise:

Create a calorie deficit and you will lose weight.

That’s why most diets require you to add up the calories of everything that goes down your throat. That is hard work, it’s time consuming – and it’s unsustainable.

Fortunately, counting calories is not necessary and you don’t have to do it. Instead of counting calories the Mediterranean Diet encourages you to think of the kinds of foods you eat and the portion sizes of those foods.

The emphasis is on adding more low-calorie fruits and vegetables and decreasing the portion sizes of calorie dense foods such as meats and grains. When you do that the total daily caloric count will take care of itself.

How can piling more food on my plate make me skinnier?

With it’s focus on low calorie plant based foods, the Mediterranean Diet allows you to have more food on your plate while taking in fewer calories.

You’ll be eating more low-calorie vegetables and fewer high calorie meats and grains. In addition to allowing you to eat more and consume fewer calories, the focus on plant-based foods provides much-needed fibre and roughage. This will help to fill you up and provide a feeling of satisfaction.

Here’s an example of how changing up your food ratios can dramatically lower the total calorie count:

Traditional Western Meal: 6-ounce chicken breast (276 calories), large serving of potatoes (240 calories), small serving of vegetables (25 calories). 

Total calories = 541

Mediterranean Diet: 3-ounce chicken breast (138 calories), 1 potato, (77 calories), legumes (81 calories), large serving of vegetables (75 calories)

Total Calories = 371

What proof is there that the Mediterranean Diet will help me lose fat?

The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most studied diets in history. Dozens of studies have been conducted analysing the diets ability to help people lose body fat.

One of the largest was a 2006 study out of Spain which involved 28,000 participants. Over a 3-year period the eating pattern of these people was meticulously analysed. Those who adhered to the Mediterranean Diet had a 30% lower chance of becoming obese than those who did not. (1)

A 2008 study compared a low-fat, low-carb diet with the Mediterranean Diet. After 18-months the Mediterranean Diet group lost an average of 9 pounds, compared to 6 pounds for the low-fat, low-carb group. The Mediterranean group also showed significant improvement in other vital measures; abdominal belly fat was lower, as was blood pressure and cholesterol level.

A 2014 study, led by Dr. Marialaura Bonaaccio, analysed the eating habits of nearly 15,000 Italian men and women who followed a Mediterranean style diet. The older participants, who tended more to strictly follow a Mediterranean style diet had a higher level of white blood cells and a lower level of platelets in their blood. They also showed lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol.

The bottom line on the ton of research that has been on the Mediterranean Diet is that it will allow you to lose at least as much fat as any other diet out there. Unlike most of those diets, however, it will also provide some very tangible additional heath benefits and will not result in an unhealthy caloric restriction or macronutrient deprivation.