The Mediterranean diet is an eating plan that is fairly consistent with the American Heart Association’s heart healthy guidelines, and can be effective for weight loss. Since a key concept of weight loss is to burn more calories on a daily basis than you consume, limiting total calorie intake while following the Mediterranean diet is crucial for successful weight loss.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet consists of eating large amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, eating fish at least twice per week, limiting red meat, drinking red wine (in moderation), consuming small amounts of nuts and replacing salt with herbs and spices. The Mediterranean diet is also known for including healthy fats such as olive and canola oils, while limiting saturated and trans fats. The diet also emphasizes the importance of physical activity.
Health Benefits of Mediterranean Diet
Since the Mediterranean diet is similar to the American Heart Association’s Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet (TLC), it has heart healthy benefits. The Mediterranean diet may lead to lower risk of heart disease and cancer, lower cholesterol and lead to more stable blood sugar levels. Another benefit of the Mediterranean diet is that is can be maintained on a long-term basis for most people, unlike fad diets that are difficult to adhere to for any significant period of time.
Possible Health Concerns
Since the Mediterranean diet consists of approximately 40 percent fat, which is higher than recommendations by the American Heart Association, there is a risk of weight gain. However, since healthy fats are consumed and saturated fats limited, the Mediterranean diet can still a healthy choice. To prevent weight gain while on the Mediterranean diet, make sure to watch your overall calorie intake. This includes limited red wine consumption even though it is included in the diet (in moderation).
Other possible health concerns include reduced iron and calcium levels from low meat and dairy consumption. To prevent nutrient deficiencies, increase vitamin C intake to aid in iron absorption, or ask your doctor about taking a multivitamin supplement that includes iron and calcium.
Drinking alcohol while on the Mediterranean diet may be a health concern for some people. If you’re prone to alcoholism, pregnant or taking medications that may negatively interact with alcohol, it can (and should) be excluded from the diet. Drinking red wine while on the Mediterranean diet is optional and should only be consumed in moderation.
Mediterranean Diet and Weight Loss
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be successful in weight loss in some studies. However, the American Heart Association recommends limiting fat intake to 25 to 30 percent of your daily calorie intake, instead of the 40 percent typically consumed with the Mediterranean diet. The key to weight loss is to burn more calories than you consume regardless of fat content, but if you’re having a hard time losing weight on the diet you can always slightly decrease your daily fat intake. To lose approximately one pound per week (typically recommended) while on the Mediterranean diet, decrease your calorie intake by approximately 500 calories per day (or increase your physical activity).