The measure of a Mediterranean diet
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
and used data from more than 10,000 participants in a large ongoing study involving University graduates in Spain. Diet questionnaires were used to give each person a score to reflect how closely their diet reflected the main characteristics of a Mediterranean diet:
- High in vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes
- High in cereals, breads, and potatoes
- High in fish
- High ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats
- Moderate in alcohol
- Low in meat, poultry, and dairy products
Long-term weight control helped by habits
People with high scores who closely followed the Mediterranean-style diet gained less weight than people with low scores. Those with the highest scores were about 20% less likely to gain 3 kilograms (about 7 pounds) or more and 34% less likely to gain 5 kilograms (about 10 pounds) or more in four years than people with the lowest scores.
Based on their findings, the researchers reasoned that “the Mediterranean dietary pattern may have a beneficial effect in slowing down the weight gain usually observed with age.” Like researchers before them, they proposed the following explanations for the weight gain-preventing effect of this eating pattern:
- The extra fiber makes it a more filling diet.
- It is lower in calories than a standard Western diet.
- The foods have a lower glycemic load, so may promote better blood sugar control.
- Although the diet is high in fat, the overall calorie consumption by people sticking to a Mediterranean diet is lower than people eating more Western-style diets.
Better eating for better health
Healthy eating habits are the basis of the Mediterranean diet. It isn’t a quick weight-loss diet, but by using it as a model for your long-term food choices, you can experience meaningful long-term changes in your health and disease risks.
Cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD, created the popular South Beach Diet based on the Mediterranean diet model. He noted, "Research continues to demonstrate that being physically active and eating a nutritious diet of primarily whole foods that are filling and satisfying can enable people to control weight, lower blood pressure [and] cholesterol levels, reduce risk of diabetes, heart disease [and] Alzheimer’s disease, and basically protect against chronic diseases."
(Am J Clin Nutr 2010;92:1484–93)