The Mediterranean diet, without any restriction in fat intake, is as effective as the conventional reduced-fat diet to maintain body weight.
Obesity is largely known to be a key risk factor for development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The most simplistic approach to reduce adiposity is restricting dietary energy intake and increasing physical activity. Fat contains a high level of energy and reducing its consumption is frequently advised to lose weight. However, all calories might not be equal. The Mediterranean diet is associated with the consumption of more vegetable fat, but less animal fat, such as the kind present in red meat. Evidence of reduced cardiovascular disease and cancer in Mediterranean countries raises questions on the potential benefits of this type of diet on body weight and health.
A group of researchers from Spain have conducted a multicenter clinical trial to compare the Mediterranean diet with no restriction in fat consumption and a control diet, which advises to reduce dietary fat. Two groups of participants were asked to adopt a Mediterranean diet, one supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and the other with nuts, while a third group followed a low-fat diet. The body weight and waist circumference of the 7,500 asymptomatic participants (aged 55–80 years), who had type 2 diabetes or three or more cardiovascular risk factors, were follow for 5 years.
The average body weight of all three groups was marginally reduced while the waist circumference was slightly increased. The interesting finding is that the Mediterranean diet group had no restriction on the amount of fat intake compared with the control group and after five years, the resulting body weight of participants was not significantly reduced.
Regardless of the body weight and waist circumference of the participants, the consumption of vegetable fats, such as olive oil, is also beneficial to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. These fats are also rich in unsaturated fatty acids which have been shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Therefore, adopting a Mediterranean diet is certainly a healthy choice, however if you need to lose weight, you need to combine it with a higher level of physical activity.
Written By: Jean-Michel Bourget, PhD