In 1993, the Harvard Medical School released the results of research that studied the diets of those countries bordering on the Mediterranean. Their findings suggested that fat and carbohydrates were NOT the main culprit in obesity and heart disease, but rather that the RIGHT fats and carbohydrates should be the base for a healthy diet. The study pointed to low rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease throughout the region as proof of their contention.
Exactly what is the Mediterranean diet and can it help you lose weight? There actually is no ‘Mediterranean’ diet - it’s a compilation of the way that people in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea eat. Despite the differences in actual specifics, all of those studied based their diets on the same proportions of food groups and calories, and all included olive oil as their main source of fat.
In fact, their diets contained far more than the recommendations made by the USDA - 40% rather than the 30% recommended for most healthy Americans. Still, the evidence was irrefutable. Therefore, it must have been the KIND of carbohydrates and fats that make the difference.
The Mediterranean diet consists of the following guidelines:
60% Of Total Carbohydrates From Grains, Fruits And Vegetables
Those include whole rice, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grain breads and cereals, polenta, pasta (made with whole grain, not refined white flour)
Sparing Use of Red Meat, Fish And Poultry
The typical adult Mediterranean consumes about 15 ounces of red meat and poultry per week. Another 5-15 ounces of fish per week account for the bulk of their meat protein intake. Compare that to the typical American diet which might include a 1 pound steak for dinner one night, a 1/2 pound chicken breast the next, and on and on.
Olive oil is not a miracle oil. It is, however, mono-unsaturated - a good fat. Mono-unsaturated fats help lower cholesterol rather than raising it, and are healthy ways to add fats to your diet (and yes, even though we think of fat as a dirty word, your body does need some, or it can’t use many of the vitamins you feed it!)
The other important component of the Mediterranean lifestyle was activity. The typical Mediterranean day includes walking rather than driving, physical activity in the fields or the home and recreation. Physical activity is vital in helping the body to lose weight, and to maintain your new weight once you reach it.
The secret to losing weight with the Mediterranean diet is to base your meals on healthy carbohydrates - leafy green vegetables, brightly colored vegetables, whole grains and meals. Use meat sparingly - no more than 3-6 ounces per day. Derive dietary fat from vegetable sources - or from fish oil. Exercise regularly to rev up your metabolism. The Mediterranean diet isn’t a weight loss regimen. It’s a new way of eating that will help you reach your goal weight and stay there when you get there.
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD