Amy Myrdal Miller
If you’ve been on the search for the “perfect” weight loss diet, the Green Mediterranean Diet is about as good as it gets. Based on the traditional Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, healthy proteins, and unsaturated plant-based oils like extra virgin olive oil, this diet has long been considered not only a wonderful way to eat to promote health but also enjoy great flavor.
Research into the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet began in the 1950s. Recently, researchers in Israel designed and tested the next generation of the Mediterranean Diet, the Green Mediterranean Diet, a plant-forward pattern designed to assess what additional healthy benefits could come from a dietary pattern that included foods like walnuts, green tea, and Mankai, which contains various types of plant polyphenols.
The study, called DIRECT-PLUS, included nearly 300 overweight men and women, all with abdominal adiposity (i.e., apple shaped versus pear shaped people) and high cholesterol, divided into three groups:
- Healthy Diet Group: Men and women randomly assigned to receive general guidance on how to consume a healthy diet and how to engage in and enjoy regular physical activity.
- Mediterranean Diet Group: Men and women randomly assigned to the group given guidance on regular physical activity and detailed instructions on how to consume a calorie-reduced Mediterranean Diet that included one-ounce of walnuts per day. The walnuts were given to the study participants in one-ounce packets.
- Green Mediterranean Diet Group: Men and women randomly assigned to the group given guidance on regular physical activity and detailed instructions on how to consume a calorie-reduced Mediterranean Diet that included walnuts as well as 3-4 cups of green tea each day and 100 grams of Mankai. The walnuts, green tea, and Mankai were all provided free of charge to the subjects in this group.
The researchers discovered the Green Mediterranean Diet has more benefits than many thought possible. Here’s a summary of what this research uncovered.
It’s no surprise that men and women in both the Mediterranean and Green Mediterranean Diet groups lost similar amounts of weight, and that people in both Mediterranean Diet groups lost more weight than the Healthy Diet group participants. The people in the Healthy Diet Group were not told to reduce calories but participating in a study and knowing researchers are tracking your weight tends to lead to a small amount of weight loss.
Men and women in the Green Mediterranean Diet group lost significantly more inches in their waist measurements compared to participants in the other two groups. Yes, that’s right. Everyone’s pants fit better after six months in this study, but the men and women eating the walnuts, drinking the green tea, and adding Mankai to their daily Mediterranean Diet eating pattern likely had to buy smaller sizes of pants after the study versus just tightening their belts a bit. There’s something special about the Green Mediterranean Diet that causes people to lose more weight in their mid-section (the technical term is “central body adiposity”) compared to other healthful dietary patterns.
Men and women in the Green Mediterranean Diet group saw the greatest drops in blood pressure. Experts expect to see a person’s blood pressure decrease after weight loss, especially weight loss accompanied by increases in physical activity; explaining why the participants in the Green Mediterranean Diet group experienced significantly greater decreases compared to the participants in the Mediterranean Diet Group is difficult to do. There are likely numerous explanations for this finding. As researchers like to say, “More research is needed in this area.”
Participants in all three groups saw drops in their LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, but the men and women in the Green Mediterranean Diet group saw the greatest drops in LDL cholesterol, likely due to the decreases in central body adiposity. Having more fat around your liver tends to encourage it to make more cholesterol from the saturated fat in your diet, and conversely, when you lose some of that fat your liver doesn’t work as hard making cholesterol.
Insulin sensitivity is like the previous three findings; it’s another measure of metabolic health. Just like with waist circumference, blood pressure, and cholesterol, the biggest benefits came to men and women in the Green Mediterranean Diet group who lost weight and lost the most fat in their mid-section.
This finding is the BIG news in the latest publication from the DIRECT-PLUS study. Men in the Green Mediterranean Diet group saw the greatest increases in fasting ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is a hunger hormone that interacts with other hormones to help regulate hunger and satiety. Ghrelin also enhances insulin sensitivity, which is important for weight loss and weight management. Insulin resistance causes the pancreas to secrete more insulin, which increases hunger and can lead to weight gain. It’s a viscous cycle to overcome, but it looks like adopting a Green Mediterranean Diet can help stop part of the hormone cascade that makes weight loss challenging for many people.
Researchers did not see the same significant increases in fasting ghrelin levels in women in the Green Mediterranean Diet group. While there may be gender differences, it’s more likely this was due to sample size. Only 12% of the study subjects across all three groups were women; having more women in the study may have led to researchers seeing significant results in women as well as men.
It’s also important to note that many research groups around the world have demonstrated significant health benefits from the Mediterranean Diet even for overweight people who don’t lose weight; the foods in this dietary pattern promote better health for many people for many reasons.
You can turn your Mediterranean Diet into a Green Mediterranean Diet by adding:
- a ¼ cup of walnuts +
- 3 to 4 cups of green tea +
- 3 to 4 cubes (85 to 113 grams) of Mankai to your daily diet.
Doing so may help lead to a looser pants—and better overall health!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Myrdal Miller is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who has focused her professional work on promoting food and lifestyle choices that promote good health. She is the founder of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, an agriculture, food, and culinary communications firm. Clients include Hinoman USA. A farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, today she and her husband live near Sacramento, CA, with their two super naughty cats Violet Grey and Schroeder, a.k.a., the Kittens with Mittens.