First there was the Mediterranean diet. You know, the one brimming with vegetables, fruit, olive oil, whole grains and seafood that's been linked to benefits like better heart health and weight loss.
Now there's a new version, called the green Mediterranean diet, that's said to be even healthier.
But are those claims true? And what's so different about this version? We'll break it all down here.
So, What Is the Green Mediterranean Diet?
Based on the short list of published studies that include the green Mediterranean diet, the eating pattern is very similar to the traditional Mediterranean diet with a few small tweaks that make it even more eco-friendly ("greener") and potentially healthier as well. Namely, it cuts out red and processed meats entirely and has followers add green tea and a specific type of green shake.
The diet isn't commercialized — at least not yet. Instead, it seems to have only been executed in a research setting.
What Do You Eat on the Green Mediterranean Diet?
On the traditional Mediterranean diet, red and processed meats are typically restricted to a few times a week, per the Oldways Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. The language used in the pyramid says "less often" and meats are lumped together with sweets at the very top of the pyramid, which means you should eat them the least of all the food groups.
On the green Mediterranean diet, red and processed meats are actually avoided altogether, and poultry and fish replace beef and lamb, according to a January 2021 study in Gut.
The diet also calls for a few cups of green tea each day, a small handful of walnuts and a daily dose of a type of green plant called Wollfia globose (aka Asian watermeal or duckweed, per the USDA), which followers drink in the form of a shake.
Foods to Eat
- 3 to 4 cups green tea a day
- 28 grams walnuts per day
- 100 grams a day of frozen cubes Wolffia globose blended into a plant-based protein shake
- Lots of vegetables
- Olive oil as a leading source of fat
Foods to Avoid
- Red meats like beef and lamb
- Processed meats (think: bacon, sausage, ham, deli meats)
- Sweets and added sugars in general
- Saturated fats, such as butter
Pros of the Green Mediterranean Diet
The green Med diet is similar to a vegetarian diet, and people who follow these types of eating plans are typically healthier than their counterparts who eat meat: Their blood pressure is better, they have a lower risk of heart disease and some cancers and they weigh less, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
But also, there are two studies that have looked specifically at the green Med diet, and they found these benefits:
1. Smaller Waist Size
People who followed the green Mediterranean diet for six months shrunk their waistlines more than a half inch more than their counterparts who followed the traditional Mediterranean diet, according to a November 2020 study in Heart.
Compared to people who only followed basic healthy diet guidelines, those on the green Med diet lost about 1 1/2 inches more off their waists.
One caveat: If you break it down by sex, only those who identified as male saw this greater benefit.
2. Better Heart Health
Eating the green Mediterranean diet for six months helped adults lower their cholesterol and blood pressure more so than those who followed a standard healthy diet, per that same Heart study. Green Med diet eaters also had lower levels of an inflammatory compound called C-reactive protein (CRP).
Although the green Med dieters improved their heart health markers, so did the Mediterranean diet followers (another group within the study). Folks who followed the Mediterranean diet for six months also improved their cholesterol, blood pressure and CRP compared to the healthy diet guideline followers. The Med diet followers' improvement was just slightly less than that of the green Med dieters.
3. Improved Liver Health
When researchers put adults on a green Mediterranean diet, those people lowered their risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) more so than both traditional Mediterranean diet followers and also healthy diet guideline followers, according to a January 2021 study in Gut.
The diet, the authors note, seems to lead to liver fat loss. That's important, because an increase in liver fat is linked to a host of unhealthy things, like decreased insulin resistance, higher risk of diabetes and heart disease and less gut microbiome diversity.
Cons of the Green Mediterranean Diet
There aren't many, if any, drawbacks to the green Mediterranean diet. The only real con is the duckweed supplement because it's not widely available.
The edible plant-protein — which tastes like watercress — is a source of both plant protein and good-for-you omega-3 fats. But because duckweed is harder to find than other plant proteins, you can reap similar nutritional benefits from protein powders featuring hemp, chia or flax — each of which deliver protein and omega-3 fats.
Should You Try It?
Because the green Mediterranean diet is a version of a vegetarian diet, it's healthy for just about anyone, and there are research-backed benefits for your waistline, heart and liver. As with any diet, though, be sure to talk to your doctor to make sure it's right for you based on your personal health history and goals.
Is This an Emergency?
- Oldways: "Mediterranean Diet"
- BMJ journal Gut: "Effect of green-Mediterranean diet on intrahepatic fat: the DIRECT PLUS randomised controlled trial"
- BMJ journal Heart: "The effect of green Mediterranean diet on cardiometabolic risk; a randomised controlled trial"
- NEJM: "Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet"
- Circulation: "Effect of Distinct Lifestyle Interventions on Mobilization of Fat Storage Pools"
- U.S. News: "Mediterranean Diet"
- J Acad Nutr Diet: "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets"
- USDA: "Wolffia globosa"