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.