The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can a Mediterranean Diet Help You Control Your Weight?

Monkeys given a Mediterranean diet did not get fat as monkeys on a Western-style diet did. Will a Mediterranean diet help you control your weight?
Caprese. Caprese salad. Italian salad. Mediterranean salad. Italian cuisine. Mediterranean cuisine. Tomato mozzarella basil leaves black olives and olive oil. Recipe – Ingredients

A Mediterranean-type diet has lots of vegetables, fish rather than meat and olive oil instead of butter. Such a regimen has been shown to protect the heart. Could a Mediterranean diet also help you control your weight? A fascinating study in nonhuman primates suggests that it might (Shively et al, Obesity, online April 23, 2019).

The Mediterranean Diet Study in Monkeys:

The researchers divided 38 monkeys into two groups. The monkeys then ate either Western-style or Mediterranean-type diets formulated to mimic human eating patterns. Over the course of 38 months, roughly equivalent to nine human years, the monkeys on the Western diet ate more than they needed and gained weight. Those given a Mediterranean diet ate less. 

By the end of the study, the animals eating a Mediterranean diet had lower body weight and less body fat. In addition, they had lower levels of triglycerides circulating in their blood. Monkeys on the Mediterranean diet were also much less likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Unfortunately, this is an increasingly prevalent problem among humans in the US. 

It is far more difficult to study the effects of diet in human beings. People don’t always follow the exact regimen the investigators specify. In observational studies, other factors besides diet might account for the differences between various groups. However, this study is not the first to suggest that following a Mediterranean diet might help you control your weight.

How Olive Oil Might Help You Control Your Weight:

The PREDIMED study suggested that extra-virgin olive oil or nuts need not lead to weight gain. Nearly 7,500 overweight adults at high risk of heart disease participated in this study for five years. The volunteers followed one of three experimental diets. One was a low-fat diet similar to the one recommended by the American Heart Association. Another was a Mediterranean diet with extra olive oil (four tablespoons daily). Finally, the third was a Mediterranean diet with extra nuts (a handful a day of walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts). These foods were provided. The participants were not advised to restrict their calories or increase their physical activity.

The Mediterranean diets that were studied were high in fat, with about 42 percent of calories from fat, but the fat was primarily from vegetable sources. Perhaps surprisingly, people in all three groups lost a little weight rather than adding pounds (or more properly kilos, since they were in Spain). 

People Eating Olive Oil Did Best:

Those in the olive-oil group lost a bit more, a difference that was modest but statistically significant (Beulen et al, Nutrients, Dec. 19, 2018). Moreover, people in the olive-oil group had smaller waist sizes after five years (Estruch et al, The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, May 2019). Americans should not be afraid to include nuts and olive oil in their menus. After all, the research shows eating a healthful diet that includes these high-fat items won’t undermine your efforts to control your weight. 

Mediterranean Diets for Heart Health:

The ability to control your weight was not the main thrust of the PREDIMED trial. The benefits of following a Mediterranean diet don’t have to come at the expense of keeping your figure. However, the investigators were primarily interested in learning whether the diet would help prevent heart attacks. The diets had fish or poultry rather than red meat and they had very little dairy products or sweet foods. The experimental diets had plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and either nuts (a handful a day of walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts) or olive oil (4 tablespoons daily). 

People following the Mediterranean diets had lower rates of heart attacks (Estruch et al, New England Journal of Medicine, June 21, 2018). These rates were 3.8 percent in the olive oil group, 3.4 percent in the nuts group and 4.4 percent in the control group. In addition, they enjoyed some protection from stroke, even if they had a genetic susceptibility (Corella et al, Diabetes Care, Aug., 2013).

Other Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet:

Data from the PREDIMED study have revealed many other benefits over the years. People following a Mediterranean diet had a lower likelihood of developing painful peripheral artery disease. This condition can make walking difficult (Ruiz-Canela et al, JAMA, Jan. 22/29, 2014). They had better blood sugar control (Babio et al, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Nov. 18, 2014). In addition, they were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes (Salas-Salvadó et al, Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan. 7, 2014). These volunteers were less likely to experience cognitive decline during the study (Martinez-Lapiscina et al, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, online June 3, 2013).

In addition, an analysis of data from about 7,200 of the participants revealed that those eating walnuts or using olive oil were almost 30 percent less likely to die during a six-year follow-up; those who consumed more fish were also protected from death due to heart disease (Sala-Vila et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, Jan. 26, 2016). That is a large amount of health benefit from a diet that can apparently help you control your weight!

If you need guidance on how to follow a Mediterranean diet, you will find it in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Shively CA et al, "Mediterranean versus western diet effects on caloric intake, obesity, metabolism, and hepatosteatosis in nonhuman primates." Obesity, April 23, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.22436
  • Babio N et al, "Mediterranean diets and metabolic syndrome status in the PREDIMED randomized trial." CMAJ, Nov. 18, 2014. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.140764
  • Beulen Y et al, "Quality of dietary fat intake and body weight and obesity in a Mediterranean population: Secondary analyses within the PREDIMED trial." Nutrients, Dec. 19, 2018. DOI: 10.3390/nu10122011
  • Estruch R et al, "Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts." New England Journal of Medicine, June 21, 2018. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1800389
  • Corella D et al, "Mediterranean diet reduces the adverse effect of the TCF7L2-rs7903146 polymorphism on cardiovascular risk factors and stroke incidence." Diabetes Care, Aug. 2013. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc13-0955
  • Ruiz-Canela M et al, "Association of Mediterranean diet with peripheral artery disease: The PREDIMED randomized trial." JAMA, Jan. 22/29, 2014. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.280618
  • Salas-Salvado J et al, "Prevention of diabetes with Mediterranean diets: A subgroup analysis of a randomized trial." Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan. 7, 2014. DOI: 10.7326/M13-1725
  • Martinez-Lapiscina EH et al, "Mediterranean diet improves cognition: The PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial." Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. online June 3, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jnnp-2012-304792
  • Sala-Vila A et al, "Dietary a-linolenic acid, marine w-3 fatty acids, and mortality in a population with high fish consumption: Findings from the PREvención con DIeta MEDiterranea (PREDIMED) study." Journal of the American Heart Association, Jan. 26, 2016. DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.115.002543
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Rex,
There are variations to the Mediterranean diet and the People’s Pharmacy talks about this style of eating frequently.

Use any search engine to find out more about this way of eating but basically it is eating mostly plant-based foods (whole grains, fruits, nuts/seeds, vegetables), using healthy oils like olive oil or avocado oil in place of butter/lard, eating very little red meat (but more fish than more western style diets offer) and using herbs/spices instead of salt.

I live in an apartment in a senior living facility. We eat all of our meals in the dining room. Before I moved here my weight was always stable and my clothes always fit. (5ft.1 in. 110 lbs) Our diet at home was always very close to a Mediterranean. In the year I’ve lived here, even trying to watch my diet, I’ve gained 12 pounds ,and my clothes are all tight or unwearable. What’s a person to do in those circumstances? We don’t have a “kitchen” in our apartments, only a small nook with a sink, short counter and a fridge. There are about 90 residents, and I was amazed when I moved in a year ago to see how many were Grossly overweight. I was determined not to let that happen to me. But I’m beginning to really worry and even consider moving to a private apartment complex to have more control over my diet. But my family discourages that since I’m 85 yrs. old and in perfect health. I give credit for that fact to your “Quick & Handy Home Remedies” book.

“If you need guidance on how to follow a Mediterranean diet, you will find it in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.” Also, check out “The Mediterranean Diet for Beginners: The Complete Guide” ‑ 40 Delicious Recipes… Book by Rock Press…

Why would you publish this article and NOT furnish a source for obtaining such a Diet??
I thought a repeat of this obvious question was in order.

We offer guidance on following the Mediterranean diet in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. There are also some other descriptions of Mediterranean diet guidelines:
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324221.php
https://oldwayspt.org/traditional-diets/mediterranean-diet
https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-4/
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/a-practical-guide-to-the-mediterranean-diet-2019032116194

Why would you publish this article and NOT furnish a source for obtaining such a Diet??

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^