The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, but low in red meat, processed foods and sugar The populations who consume these foods as part of their traditional diet have been shown to be protected from a number of diseases. For example, epidemiological studies have shown that Mediterranean populations from Greece, Italy and Spain are protected from obesity, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Clinical trials on healthy populations have shown that the Mediterranean diet is able to reduce systemic inflammation, improve lipid profiles and cause weight loss. The current recommendation is for those individuals at risk of obesity or cardiovascular disease to switch to a Mediterranean style diet or to incorporate more of the Mediterranean foods into their own Western diets. Evidence suggests that individuals that manage to adhere to such changes benefit from improved health in the short-term.
For example, researchers1 have investigated the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on 77 health women in Québec, who followed the diet for just 24 weeks. Subjects were given two group courses and seven individual sessions with a dietician in order to understand the dietary changes, and were then expected to make adjustments to their own diets under free-living condition. Adherence to the diet was assessed by analysis of frequent food questionnaires using a constructed Mediterranean dietary score based on 11 components integral to the diet. The results showed that those adhering to the Mediterranean diet had small but significant decrease in bodyweight (0.5kg) at week 6 and waist circumference (1.2 cm) at week 12. Dietary analysis showed that subjects had increased their consumption of legumes, nuts and seeds, but decreased their consumption of sweets, and that these changes were significantly associated with changes in waist circumference.
This study shows that weight loss in possible in healthy individuals by switching to a Mediterranean style diet for as little as 6 weeks. The study did not demand any intentional restriction of calories and was conducted under totally free-living conditions. Individuals were educated about the Mediterranean diet and this knowledge was used to alter dietary patterns. The results seen in this study support previous reports that show beneficial effects of increased consumption of fish, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Evidence is accumulating to suggests that weight gain is caused by metabolic dysfunction that is results from diets high in sugar, processed foods, deodorised and hydrogenated vegetable oils, as commonly found in Western nations. Decreasing consumption of these foods and replacing them with healthy alternatives appears to reverse the metabolic dysfunction and allow weight loss to proceed without deliberate calorie restriction.