Is the ‘Green’ Mediterranean Diet even better than the original?

There’s a lot to love about the Mediterranian diet from a nutritional perspective, and it’s a sustainable way to lose weight. But is the ‘green’ Mediterranean diet a new and improved version? Dietitian Melissa Meier investigates.

The Mediterranean Diet is one of the few diets with solid scientific backing. It’s not built on pseudo-science, it’s not an expensive 6-week weight loss plan and it certainly hasn’t been thought up by Instagram’s ‘it’ wellness guru. Instead, it’s the traditional way of eating in the Mediterranean region. Associated with perks like improved heart and brain health and reduced risk of diabetes and cancer, the Mediterranean diet has *a lot* going for it.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

Hold the pizza – the Mediterranean diet probably isn’t exactly what you think. It’s mostly plant-based, with fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains being the star of the show. Extra virgin olive oil is used liberally, providing heart-healthy fats and disease-fighting antioxidants. Also on the healthy fat train in the Med diet are oily fish, nuts and seeds.

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Meat isn’t off the menu but enjoyed only occasionally, and in terms of dairy, small portions of yoghurt and cheese are included.

What is the green Mediterranean diet, and is it any better for you?

Coined by a recently released study in the scientific journal Heart, the Green Mediterranean diet is a new take on the classic, supposedly higher in green plant foods and even lower in meat. The study itself randomised participants into three study groups:

  1. One receiving just healthy dietary advice
  2. One adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, including poultry and fish instead of beef and lamb, plenty of veg and specifically 28 grams of walnuts a day
  3. One adopting a so-called ‘green’ Med diet. This version avoided red and processed meats altogether. It also included three to four cups per day of green tea and 100 grams of ‘wolffia globosa’ (supposedly a strain of duckweed) in a shake instead of animal proteins in the evening meal. Oh, and 28 grams of walnuts a day as well.

And the results? Both groups on the Med-style diets had similar weight loss, but the green version lost more centimetres from their waist circumference.

Levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol reduced significantly for those in the green Med diet group in comparison to those in the healthy dietary advice group, and both Med diet groups improved their levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.

Is it time to adopt the new and improved Med diet?

Although it sounds promising, I wouldn’t recommend jumping on the green Med diet bandwagon. This is only one study in a sea of scientific research – and a relatively small one, at that. There were just 294 participants from the same workplace in Israel, most of whom were men, so the results can’t be generalised to the whole population.

What’s more, the so-called Mediterranean diets in the study were calorie-controlled between 1200-1800 calories per day, which, FYI, is not resemblant of the traditional Mediterranean diet.

Another confounding factor is that the study participants received physical activity advice, but it’s hard to know which participants actually changed their exercise habits, and what outcomes might have been resultant of that alone.

In my opinion, the traditional Mediterranean diet is definitely the one to go with. It’s built on humble, wholefoods and is proven by a substantial body of top-quality scientific literature to be good for you. The new green Med diet just doesn’t have the scientific pull of the original version.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practicing dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.