Mediterranean Diet For Weight Loss

Following this plant-based plan can help your health and your weight

The Mediterranean diet is one example of a plant-based eating plan that can help with weight loss. Interest in plant-based diets has increased in recent years because of the benefits to health and the environment. The Mediterranean diet for weight loss is a balanced regimen abundant with produce, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, along with fish and smaller amounts of poultry and dairy. Other approaches are: vegan (free of all animal products, including dairy and eggs), vegetarian (one who eschews meat, poultry, and fish, but not dairy or eggs), flexitarian (a person who eats meat, poultry, or fish infrequently), and pescetarian (a vegetarian whose diet includes fish, but no other animal products).

 

Does the Mediterranean Diet Work?

Vegans and vegetarians—particularly those who focus on whole foods like produce, nuts, and beans—may be at a lower risk for obesity than nonvegetarians, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And when overweight adults were assigned to a standard reduced-calorie weight loss diet or a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, they lost roughly the same amount of weight over the 18 months researchers from the University of Pittsburgh tracked them, according to a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Obesity. 

The Mediterranean diet has been shown in studies to produce greater weight loss than low-fat diets. It also may reduce the accumulation of belly fat specifically. Fat stored in the abdomen is more harmful to health than fat stored in the hips or thighs, raising the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

A plant-based diet, however, is still subject to many of the same pitfalls of a meat-containing one. “Vegetarian food includes french fries and potato chips and lots of other high-calorie food,” says Lawrence Cheskin, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore.

 

The Upside

It can be easier to lose weight on a plant-based diet because it allows you to eat a higher volume of food for fewer calories, Cheskin notes. It’s important to eat less processed foods and more whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit.

Eating more plant foods and fewer animal foods can also cut your risk of heath conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and more, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; the American Institute for Cancer Research encourages a plant-based diet for cancer prevention. And plant-based eating can be more sustainable for the environment than a meat-based diet.

The Downside

When people give up foods like dairy and meat but compensate by adding in more refined carbohydrates and sugars, they are likely to put on weight. “You can still get plenty of calories on a vegetarian diet,” Cheskin says.

The Middle Ground

Adding more produce to your diet (particularly fruit and non-starchy vegetables) is linked with lower weight. Each extra daily serving of fruit led to about a half-pound weight loss, and each serving of non-starchy vegetables was linked to a quarter-pound weight loss in a 2015 Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health review that involved 133,468 men and women. With few calories and loads of fiber, produce can be satiating, researchers say. Upping your intake of vegetables can crowd out higher calorie foods even if you’re not planning to commit to a completely plant-based lifestyle.  

Rachel Meltzer Warren

Rachel Meltzer Warren

Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D., is a freelance writer based in the New York area who contributes to Consumer Reports on food and nutrition topics.