Scientists from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that a green Mediterranean diet could provide more benefits to people’s heart health than the traditional Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet is characterized by high intakes of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, grains, fish, seafood, extra virgin olive oil, and a moderate intake of red wine.
It is the dietary pattern of people living in the countries along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Italy, southern France, Crete, Spain, and parts of the middle east.
The food choices in the Mediterranian diet are comprised mainly of green leafy vegetables with a variety of legumes, nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, pistachios), fresh fruits, and whole grains also included.
As the Mediterranean region is a significant producer of olive oil, this is also a staple in the diet.
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat containing alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 essential fatty acid, which has been indicated to provide a cardioprotective benefit.
The reduction of risk factors is believed to be the major contributor to the reduction in cardiovascular disease seen in those who adhere to the Mediterranean diet.
Fish and other animals of the sea provide a great source of other omega fatty acids and are another predominant reason for the cardioprotective nature.
Another important element of the diet is the consumption of wine in moderation (specifically red), which has been suggested to provide multiple metabolic benefits.
In the current study, researchers aimed to examine the effect of a green Mediterranean diet, which is further enriched with green plant-based foods and lower meat intake, on people’s heart disease risk.
A total of 294 overweight people enrolled in the study were assigned to three diet groups:
A diet following healthy dietary guidance, a Mediterranean diet, and a green Mediterranean diet, are all combined with physical activity.
The two Mediterranean diets were equally low-energy and included 28 g/day walnuts.
The green Mediterranean diet further included green tea and a plant-based protein shake to replace animal protein.
After six months, the team found both Mediterranean diets helped people lose weight (green Mediterranean −6.2 kg; Mediterranean −5.4 kg) compared to the healthy diet ( −1.5 kg).
But the green Mediterranean group had a greater reduction in waist circumference (−8.6 cm) than the Mediterranean (−6.8 cm) and healthy diet (−4.3 cm) groups.
The team further found that these differences were only strong among men.
Within 6 months the green Mediterranean group achieved a greater decrease in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol, diastolic blood pressure (lower number of blood pressure readings), and insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy.
To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, your blood sugar levels go up.
In addition, the team found that the LDL-C/high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C, ‘good’ cholesterol) ratio decline was greater in the green Mediterranean group than in the Mediterranean and healthy diet groups.
The inflammation markers also decreased more in the green Mediterranean group than in the other two groups.
Finally, the green Mediterranean group achieved a better improvement in heart health.
Based on these findings, the team suggests that the green Mediterranean diet, which is supplemented with walnuts, green tea, and plant protein, and lower in meat and poultry, may amplify the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
The research was published in Heart and conducted by Dr. Iris Shai et al.
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