What Is the ‘Green’ Mediterranean Diet?

  • New research suggests a “green” Mediterranean diet plan may help boost your cardiovascular health, and weight loss goals, more effectively.
  • A study found that those who made four tweaks to the classic diet plan lost more weight and improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels while also curtailing their calorie intake.
  • A nutrition expert explains why any form of the Mediterranean diet can help you improve your health, and how to get started.

    There’s a reason why Mediterranean diet plans are consistently ranked the healthiest for people wishing to not only lose weight, but revolutionize their health entirely. At the Good Housekeeping Institute, our registered dietitian crowned the Mediterranean diet this year’s best as the diet’s staples — lean proteins, seafood, crunchy vegetables, and plenty of healthy fats — lead to immense cardiovascular benefits and fights inflammation. Plus, it promotes sustainable weight loss for people who aren’t willing to sacrifice entire food groups (ahem, keto)! So imagine our delight when a new study, published this month in BMJ’s Heart and conducted by a team out of Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, claimed that a few small tweaks to the diet may accelerate its effects on heart health.

    Researchers behind the study call it the “green” Mediterranean diet, a refined version of the diet plan that supercharges your daily meals by asking you to reach for more fiber and less red meat. What is the diet, exactly? The updated version requires people to cut red meat almost entirely out of their diet for best results, making more room for fiber and healthy fats sourced from lean protein. To make up for any deficiency, dieters are asked to consume what’s known as Wolffia globosa, or a byproduct of duckweed, an aquatic plant. Plus, you’ll need to incorporate 28g of walnuts per day into your snacking, and consume at least 3 cups of green tea (if not more).

    While the study was partially funded by California Walnuts, the researchers arrived at their particular conclusion after a rigorous experiment with 300 different men and women. Participants were split into three groups, asked to follow different diets over the course of 18 months. The first group simply received advice for upping their fitness and eating a healthier diet; the second group, however, was instructed to follow a regular Mediterranean diet and were placed on a calorie-based plan, as well as the same fitness advice. But the third group followed the “green” Mediterranean diet, eating the same amount of calories as the other Med group, albeit with the duckweed protein shake served at dinnertime, green tea throughout the day, added walnuts, and advice to avoid red meat entirely.

    Those on the green version of the diet saw the best, most substantial changes to their health six months later; they had the biggest drop in cholesterol and blood pressure. Plus, this group lost roughly 14 pounds in just six months.

    Here’s the catch, though — all of the groups saw beneficial results, explains Brierley Horton, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who has reviewed Mediterranean diet plans for years. All groups lost weight, including those on the regular Mediterranean diet (around 12 pounds!), and waist sizes slimmed down amid all participants. The same trend was true for cholesterol levels. “Yes, the ‘green’ Med diet group had better results — but the Mediterranean diet still provided improvement for the other group in the study,” she explains.

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    Below, Horton walks us through what you need to know about the study’s updated guidelines for Mediterranean diets, plus how you can incorporate a Med-diet-friendly protein shake into your routine.

    What is duckweed?

    If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. Horton says research published in 2017 put this edible plant-protein, also known as Asian watermeal, on the map for most. A MentalFloss report claims duckweed, which has a flavor profile similar to watercress, is the smallest fruit in the world, but Horton explains that it manages to pack in a lot of protein nonetheless. Researchers have previously found that the protein counts in duckweed can be equal to “40% of [its] dry weight” in some conditions. “It’s water-based, which is probably the reason why duckweed also manages to be a significant source of omega-3 fatty acids,” Horton adds.

    But you’ve probably never seen a duckweed supplement in the health aisle or even at a specialty store, as this protein is often mixed in with other sources to make “plant-based” supplements on the market today. The study indicates that dieters were given a specific frozen product made by Mankai, but Horton says it’s unclear if the study’s sponsors had any input on including this particular brand.

    Don’t fret if you can’t find pure duckweed supplement: Horton says you can still pack in extra protein and omega 3s into your routine with a protein shake made with hemp, chia, or flax seeds. “Without getting into a nitty-gritty comparison to duckweed, all three of those seeds have high sources of omega 3s in them, and they’re great sources of protein, and they’re widely available to all of us right now.”

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    What can I eat on the green Mediterranean diet?

    While more research needs to be done in order to understand why this version of the Mediterranean diet prompts better results, it’s clear that cutting out any amount of fatty, processed red meats will lead to better health. “People who tend to dip into vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, they’re just healthier overall, right? They have better markers for cardiometabolic risk, and less chronic inflammation,” Horton explains. “Since the green Mediterranean diet is supplementing meat with plant-based protein in duckweed and other staples, it’s not surprising that health is improving — and then you also consider walnuts, which also have high amounts of omega 3s just like duckweed. Individually, these staples are good, and now they work together.”

    Remember: the “green” Mediterranean diet requires you to cut down on red meat for best results, to snack on a few handfuls of walnuts each day, to make a protein shake (either with duckweed protein or a similar substitute), and to drink 3 or 4 cups of green tea as well (which is healthier than soda or coffee). Cutting down or eliminating red meat looks different for everyone, Horton says: if you can slowly reduce the frequency that you’re eating red meat, that’s a good start.

    You’ll also be able to enjoy these staples:

    • Produce: Everything under the sun, basically, from tomatoes to cauliflower and spinach to kale. Nearly all fruits (as long as they are unprocessed) are on the menu, too.
    • Whole Grains: Items like farro, barley, whole oats, brown rice, and even whole-grain breads and pastas in moderation.
    • Lean protein: Chicken and turkey included, as well as plant-based options like tofu.
    • Seafood: Salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, and herring, all prepared as simple as possible (grilled or sautéed, not fried!).
    • Unsaturated fats: Olive oil and yogurt rather than butter and milk.
    • Nuts and seeds: Your favorites included!

      If giving meat up entirely is a challenge for you, you can take a few steps to enjoy it without derailing your diet. First, select a cut of meat that is physically lean: “Go for a filet rather than a large ribeye,” Horton advises. Second, make sure you’re choosing fresh meat rather than processed products: “Avoid things like processed pork or deli meats,” she adds. Lastly, if you have a hankering for bacon or a processed meat, Horton says try incorporating a smaller amount into an otherwise healthy dish. “It’s about using it as a garnish or in the same style as a condiment, right? Put a dash of bacon or ham into what you’re cooking, to add the flavor and enjoy it, without actually eating an entire plate of it on its own.”

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