A Mediterranean diet, characterized by lots of vegetables, fish, fruits, and nuts, is often pointed to as the solution to the dreaded “Western diet” that’s synonymous with processed foods, red meat, butter, and pre-packaged food items.
A new study, however, finds that when it comes to weight loss and healthier cholesterol levels, there’s another dieting option that looks to be even more effective than a Mediterranean approach to eating.
A Mediterranean diet, characterized by lots of vegetables, fish, fruits, and nuts, is often pointed to as the solution to the dreaded “Western diet” that’s synonymous with processed foods, red meat, butter, and pre-packaged food items. A new study, however, finds that when it comes to weight loss and healthier cholesterol levels, there’s another dieting option that looks to be even more effective than a Mediterranean approach to eating.
Conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, this research concluded that after 16 weeks a vegan diet led to better health outcomes in regards to weight, cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity, and body composition in comparison to a Mediterannean diet adhered to for the same period.
Veganism has seen a big increase in interest and popularity over recent years, but many doubters have emerged as well. Much of the controversy surrounding veganism has little to do with the actual food. An unfair stereotype has emerged of the fussy vegan hipster who believes he or she is better than everyone else because of their diet. Is this a fair depiction of veganism and vegans? Of course not, but that goes for every stereotype.
So what exactly is a vegan diet? In short, vegans don’t eat any animal-related food products whatsoever. That means no meat, no dairy, and no seafood. Instead, vegans opt for tofu, nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and seeds to meet their daily nutritional needs.
Look, veganism isn’t for everyone. Plenty of people can’t imagine never eating a cheeseburger, omelet, or some grilled salmon ever again – and that’s okay. This research isn’t saying a vegan diet will be easy, or particularly chock full of flavor. What it is saying is that a vegan approach to eating is very beneficial for anyone looking to lose weight or get a better handle on their cholesterol levels.
All that being said, even if you’re very skeptical about making a vegan diet work for you and your tastes, it may be worth exiting your comfort zone and giving it a try. Tons of new vegans are surprised by all of the tasty vegan recipes out there. Additionally, more and more vegan-themed restaurants and stores are popping up all over the country.
“Previous studies have suggested that both Mediterranean and vegan diets improve body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors, but until now, their relative efficacy had not been compared in a randomized trial,” says study co-author Hana Kahleova, MD, Ph.D., director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee. “We decided to test the diets head to head and found that a vegan diet is more effective for both improving health markers and boosting weight loss.”
To conduct this study, a collection of overweight participants with no history of diabetes was randomly assigned to one of two experimental groups; a vegan diet group and a Mediterranean diet group. For the next 16 weeks the vegan group adhered to a strict low-fat vegan approach to eating, and the other group followed a Mediterranean diet.
It’s worth noting that neither group was given a daily “calorie limit,” and no one was instructed to change up or adjust their usual exercise or medication regimens.
Then, after 16 weeks had passed, all participants reverted to their usual diet for a full month. Once that “washout” month had passed, study subjects switched groups for another 16-week trial. So, those who had been eating a vegan diet switched to the Mediterranean and vice versa.
The ensuing results were very clear. After two separate 16 week periods on both diets, participants lost an average of 13 pounds while eating vegan, but showed no average weight changes at all on a Mediterranean diet. Regarding fat mass, subjects lost 7.5 more pounds on the vegan diet as well. Visceral fat levels also dropped further on the vegan diet.
Similar findings were noted for cholesterol; on average participants showed no changes to their cholesterol levels after eating the Mediterranean diet, but a vegan diet dropped total and LDL cholesterol levels by 18.7 mg/dL and 15.3 mg/dL respectively.
It wasn’t all bad news for the Mediterranean diet, though. Subjects’ blood pressure readings dropped more significantly while following a Mediterranean diet in comparison to a vegan diet.
“While many people think of the Mediterranean diet as one of the best ways to lose weight, the diet actually crashed and burned when we put it to the test,” comments study co-author Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee. “In a randomized, controlled trial, the Mediterranean diet caused no weight loss at all. The problem seems to be the inclusion of fatty fish, dairy products, and oils. In contrast, a low-fat vegan diet caused significant and consistent weight loss.”
It isn’t all that difficult to figure out why vegan eating is very healthy. Veganism is associated with less daily calories, fat, and saturated fat, as well as more fiber.
“If your goal is to lose weight or get healthy in 2021, choosing a plant-based diet is a great way to achieve your resolution,” Dr. Kahleova concludes.
The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.