A Mediterranean diet is healthy in itself. But you have to choose the right one

The Mediterranean diet is still known as one of the healthiest diets in the world. But then you better choose the green variant.

Because especially those who eat vegetarian according to Mediterranean cuisine will see a decrease in visceral adipose tissue, also known as organ fat. This fatty tissue surrounds the internal organs in the abdominal cavity. Previous research shows that visceral fat tissue is much worse for your health than the ‘love handles’ around your waist or extra fat around the extremities. It is therefore important to reduce the fat layers around the intestines when losing weight.

Harvard professor Iris Shai and her international research team compared three different diets in a clinical setting to find out the differences in the breakdown of visceral adipose tissue. 294 participants were divided into three groups and put on one of the following diets for a year and a half: the green Mediterranean diet, the traditional Mediterranean diet or a non-Mediterranean healthy diet. After analyzing all the data, it turned out that the green Mediterranean diet reduced visceral fat by an average of 14 percent; clearly more than the effect of the regular Mediterranean diet (7 percent) and the non-Mediterranean healthy diet (4.5 percent).

Visceral knows
Reducing visceral fat is considered the greatest goal of weight loss because it is a more important indicator of disease risk than a person’s weight or waist circumference. Visceral fatty tissue accumulates between the organs over time. Too much of this organ fat is dangerous because it produces hormones and toxins that are linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and premature death.

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The green Mediterranean diet is a variant that was devised for the purpose of this study. It contains no meat, but much more green vegetables and fiber than the traditional Mediterranean diet. The team has already shown in previous studies that this diet produces a variety of beneficial effects. The green Mediterranean diet appears to have a positive influence on the intestinal flora and on the risk of age-related diseases. Especially the use of mankai, or duckweed, as a healthy leafy vegetable is new (although it was already mentioned in a Dutch cookbook in 1644). Duckweed may not (yet) be sold as food in the EU, due to the strict rules that apply to ‘new’ food products.

Ideal meat substitute
The green Mediterranean diet prescribed to the subjects is rich in antioxidants, including polyphenols. In addition to a handful of walnuts (28 grams), the participants drank 3 to 4 cups of green tea per day and 100 grams of green duckweed per person went from the freezer into a vegetable shake every day. This special duckweed, also called water lentils, contains many important biological proteins (amino acids), iron, various vitamins (it is one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin B12), minerals and polyphenols, iron, zinc and dietary fiber. Duckweed is therefore a great meat substitute.

Simple changes
“A healthy lifestyle is a strong foundation for any weight loss program. We have been able to deduce from the results of our experiment that the quality of food is just as important or possibly even more important than the number of calories consumed. Our goal now is to understand how different nutrients work. For example, polyphenols have a clearly positive influence on the differentiation of fat cells and the rate of growth of visceral adipose tissue. Empty carbohydrates and processed red meat have a negative influence on this process,” explains Professor Shai.

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“A 14 percent reduction in visceral adipose tissue makes a big difference just through a few simple diet and lifestyle changes. Weight loss is only really good for health if it is accompanied by a significant reduction in organ fat tissue,” says fellow researcher Dr. Hila Zelicha still.

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