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Jul 25, 2016

Mediterranean Diet Promotes Weight Loss Despite High Fat Content

Cutting out good fats not necessary for shedding pounds, based on a recent study of the Mediterranean diet.

Despite its high fat content, the Mediterranean diet enriched with healthy fats from olive oil and nuts promotes weight loss in overweight and obese adults, based on recent findings published in The Lancet.

Known as the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) trial, this study looked at the long-term effects of a high-fat Mediterranean diet on weight and belly fat. The Mediterranean diet, common in areas like Southern Italy, Greece and Spain, limits red meat, is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and includes healthy fats from nuts, fish and olive oil. Many studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to reduced risk for heart disease and a healthy weight. However, it’s still widely believed that all types of high-fat diets promote weight gain.

To debunk this theory, researchers randomly assigned nearly 7,500 adults ages 55–80 to a low-fat diet or Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil or nuts. The study lasted five years, during which time participants had their weight and waist circumference measured annually. Nearly all participants were overweight or obese at the start of the study and all had major risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Over the five-year study, all groups had modest weight loss and a small increase in waist circumference. However, those on the Mediterranean diet lost up to a pound more compared to adults assigned to the low-fat diet. And participants on the Mediterranean diet had smaller increases in waist circumference than those in the low-fat group.

The take-home message, according to authors, is that we don’t need to restrict healthy fats to maintain or even lose weight. In this study, the Mediterranean diet—despite its high content of unsaturated or “good” fats—promoted weight loss and minimized gain in belly fat. This was achieved without cutting calories, which is recommended in most weight-loss diets.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should throw concerns about calories and fat out the window. The Mediterranean diet, while rich in good fats, primarily includes wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables and fish. Many of these foods are naturally low in calories and rich in nutrients, which is why the Mediterranean diet is such a reasonable diet. Therefore, without focusing on calories or limiting fat, the Mediterranean diet may be a sustainable option for individuals trying to maintain or even lose weight.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the Mediterranean diet?
  • The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. It features foods eaten in Greece, Spain, southern Italy and France, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

    The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads and whole grains, and olive oil. Meat, cheese, and sweets are very limited. The recommended foods are rich with monounsaturated fats, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.

    The Mediterranean diet is like other heart-healthy diets in that it recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains. But in the Mediterranean diet, an average of 35-to-40% of calories can come from fat. Most other heart-healthy guidelines recommend getting less than 35% of your calories from fat. The fats allowed in the Mediterranean diet are mainly from unsaturated oils, such as fish oils, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils (such as canola, soybean, or flaxseed oil). These types of oils may have a protective effect on the heart.  For more information, read this overview of the Mediterranean diet.
  • What is a healthy weight for me?
  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.

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Extra virgin or virgin olive oil is preferable because it isn't chemically produced and has more antioxidants.

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