The Healthiest Diet: A “Greener” Version of the Mediterranean, Study Finds

|Updated Nov 2, 2021
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More good news for anyone trying to eat a more plant-based approach for their health: In a new study published in the journal Heart, researchers found that a modified “greener” version of the Mediterranean diet resulted in both weight loss and improved cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors in nearly 300 moderately overweight and sedentary individuals.

The participants were divided into three groups and given slightly different diets: "healthy diet guidelines, versus the traditional Mediterranean diet, versus the "greener" Mediterranean diet with less animal protein and more plant-based protein, all with virtually the same calories and exercise. The groups on both the conventional Mediterranean diet and the "green" Mediterranean diet did the best, and the greener diet did better than the one with more animal protein.

The green Mediterranean diet included three to four cups of green tea a day, and a 3-4 cups/day) and 100 grams of a plant protein shake, which partially substituted for the animal protein of the groups not on the green diet.After 6 months those on the greener version of the Mediterranean diet ended up losing the most weight and having the best outcomes, when doctors looked at markers for heart disease.

For Years the Mediterranean Diet Was the Gold Standard. A "Green" Version is Better

No one disputes that the Mediterranean diet is healthy, and for years it was considered the gold standard for healthy eating. The diet—which emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil —also includes fish and a reduced amount of meat and poultry consumption.

Recently, a mostly plant-based approach started to show up in research as having the ability to not just halt heart disease and other chronic ailments, but reverse the course of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and more. According to leading cardiologists and researchers such as Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Andrew Freeman and others, switching patients to a plant-based diet have helped them to reversed signs of coronary heart disease, go off medications, and avoid surgery when they go on a plant-based diet.

So the question of whether the Mediterranean Diet goes far enough is a relevant one. According to Dr. Joel Kahn, who spoke to The Beet previously about the fact that a plant-based approach is optimal, the reason doctors recommend Mediterranean diet is that it may be too hard to get patients to comply with a stricter plant-based approach. But if your goal is optimal health, this study appears to show that a greener, more plant-based diet is best.

The "green" Mediterranean diet “supplemented [the regular Mediterranean diet] with walnuts, green tea and Mankai [a plant-based protein source from duckweed],” and was found to be even better for the participants’ health than the standard Mediterranean diet.

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The Mediterranean Diet, based on higher consumption of plant-based foods, has been proved to be better than the previously widely recommended low-fat diet for a reduction in cardiometabolic risk and prevention of cardiovascular diseases,” said study author Dr. Gal Tsaban, a researcher at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center, and colleagues, per Sci - News.

“Our findings suggest that additional restriction of meat intake with a parallel increase in plant-based, protein-rich foods, may further benefit the cardiometabolic state and reduce cardiovascular risk, beyond the known beneficial effects of the traditional Mediterranean diet,” the researchers concluded, reminding us to encourage the part-time plant-based eaters in our life to consider further reducing their meat intake to improve their health.

More simply put, as The Nutrition Twins Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D.N., C.D.N., C.F.T., C.L.T., and Lyssie Lakatos, R.D.N., C.D.N., C.F.T., C.L.T., summarize the study findings: “We already know that following a Mediterranean-style diet is healthier than most other diets,” they say. “But this study shows that we may be able to step up our health game, our heart health and lose more weight when we cut out red meat, and possibly even more so when we cut out chicken and fish and amp up the vegetables and vegetarian protein.”

Mediterranean Diet Becomes Even Healthier When Focused More Heavily on Plants

To recap, the green Mediterranean diet is a riff on the traditional Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, spices, herbs, and olive oil, and minimizes animal protein sources.“It encourages plant-based protein to take the place of animal-based protein, by focusing on legumes, nuts, and seeds,” The Nutrition Twins add.

Of course, the positive health benefits of going vegan are well researched (here are just a few!) and this style of plant-based eating seems particularly promising for its impact on cardiovascular health and weight loss. “This vegan way of eating ‘green’ Mediterranean can prove especially beneficial when it comes to weight loss because it boosts fiber intake, which can greatly increase satiety and reduce hunger and calorie intake,” explain The Nutrition Twins, adding that a serving of steak, fish, or chicken, contains virtually no fiber, “but a ¾ -cup of protein-rich beans has the filling combination of protein and 22 grams of fiber or more,” they continue, citing this study from Food Nutrition Research which found that meals based on vegetable protein sources are more satiating than those with animal protein sources.

“Also, fiber promotes good bacteria which also is helpful when it comes to weight loss,” the duo points out. (Just check out this 2019 research presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes that found a vegan diet can boost gut microbes involved in body weight, weight body consumption, and blood sugar control.)

So how can you make the green Mediterranean diet work for you? The Nutrition Twins break down a day’s worth of sample meals:

A Sample Day of Eating the Green Mediterranean Diet

Breakfast: One cup whole-grain oats with cinnamon, blueberries, shredded almonds, hemp seeds, and honey.

Lunch: One cup quinoa with chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant, olives, toasted sunflower seeds, oregano, and thyme, or a kale, cucumber and tomato salad with olive oil and lemon.

Snack: A small serving of nuts and grapes.

Dinner: Oven-roasted tempeh, carrots, artichoke, sweet potato, eggplant, and carrot (pre-marinated in oil and heavy herbs) with one cup of wild rice.

Snack: One piece of avocado toast topped with slivered almonds.

Pretty doable-sounding, if you ask us. Just add a square of dark chocolate or two, and we’re in heaven. Who’s ready to get started?