A Mediterranean diet, typically characterized by lots of fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, and whole grains in combination with moderate amounts of fish, dairy, poultry, and the occasional serving of red meat, is considered by heart doctors to be one of the healthiest eating regimens out there today.
Now, however, a new study says that a slightly tweaked version of the Mediterranean diet, called the “green Mediterranean diet,” offers even greater cardiovascular and metabolic advantages than the original.
As you can probably guess, a green Med diet differs from its predecessor by cutting down on red meat intake even further and adding more green plant-based foods.
The research team behind these findings, an international collection of scientists from the US, Germany, and Israel, theorize a green Med diet offers greater health benefits because it promotes the consumption of more polyphenols (micronutrients packed with antioxidants), healthy fats, and fiber. Besides all that, eating less red meat, or none at all for that matter is also quite beneficial.
“Education and encouragement to follow a green Med dietary pattern in conjunction with physical activity has the potential to be a major contributor to public health as it may improve balancing of cardiovascular risk factors, eventually preventing cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” the study reads.
For all of red meat’s drawbacks, humanity has been drawn to it as a source of sustenance since the dawn of time for one reason: protein. Animal meat is full of protein, and our bodies need a whole lot of that daily to thrive and stay healthy.
So, how does a green Med diet provide adequate protein? By including Mankai (a variation of the aquatic plant duckweed). Mankai is very high in protein, and researchers asked study participants assigned to the green Med diet experimental group to drink duckweed shakes every day to ensure they were getting enough protein.
Regarding the experiment and research that facilitated these findings, a group of 294 generally inactive and moderately obese adults (average age 51 years old) was separated into three experimental diet groups.
The first group was just given some guidance on healthy exercise habits and told in vague terms to limit their daily caloric intake to 1500-1800 calories for men and 1200-1400 calories for women. The second group was given the same guidance as the first group, but also told specifically to follow a traditional Mediterranean diet. Finally, the third group was given the same information as the other two but told to follow a strict green Med diet.
Diving into that green Med diet a bit further, participants assigned to this group ate 28 grams of walnuts each day, avoided red meat, drank 3-4 cups of green tea per day, and ingested 100 grams of duckweed daily to help meet their protein needs.
All three groups followed these mandates for six months. Once that period passed, researchers assessed everyone’s health and weight loss outcomes.
Sure enough, those who stuck to a green Med diet lost the most weight on average (13.7 lbs), followed by the traditional Mediterranean diet group (11.9 lbs) and those in the first diet group (3.3 lbs). Results for waist circumference followed a similar pattern. Green Med dieters saw their waists shrink by an average of 3.4 inches, traditional Med dieters enjoyed a waist reduction of 2.7 inches, and participants in the vaguer dieting group experienced an average waist reduction of 1.7 inches.
Beyond matters of the scale, participants in the green Med diet group also showed significant drops in bad cholesterol levels (a reduction of close to 4%). In comparison, traditional Med dieters only showed a 1% drop in bad cholesterol, and subjects in the third group barely showed any decrease at all.
“Our findings suggest that additional restriction of meat intake with a parallel increase in plant-based, protein-rich foods, may further benefit the cardiometabolic state and reduce cardiovascular risk, beyond the known beneficial effects of the traditional Mediterranean diet,” researchers write.
If you still aren’t convinced a green Mediterranean diet offers more benefits than the traditional version, consider that those who followed the green eating regimen also showed reductions in their insulin resistance, diastolic blood pressure, and C-reactive protein levels. All of those are considered serious risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For example, C-reactive protein has a lot to do with the unhealthy hardening of arteries.
All in all, researchers say following a green Mediterranean diet appears to greatly reduce one’s chances of developing heart disease or suffering a heart attack or stroke.
It’s important to note that the vast majority of participants who took part in this study were men (only 35 female subjects). With this in mind, further research including more women is necessary on this topic.
That being said, the overarching conclusions drawn by this research are hard to ignore. Even if you already follow a responsible diet, incorporating more greens into your meals is an easy way to get even healthier. The color green is usually associated with money, but maybe it should be more synonymous with strong health.
The full study can be found here, published in Heart. Study authors include researchers from the Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health, Leipzig University, and the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.