You know the feeling you get when you text a new love interest for the first time and your message turns green instead of blue? Like, it’s not a deal-breaker but you feel kind of bummed and confused? That about sums up how I felt at first when I read that the Mediterranean diet was named the best diet of 2019 in US News and World Report‘s annual ranking.
Really? 2013 called; it wants its food trend back.
It wasn’t really clear to me why the eating plan—which advocates for a balanced approach to eating lean proteins, fruits and veggies, and grains (with small amounts of wine and cheese for good measure)—was suddenly a “thing” again. Haven’t we all collectively “been there, done that?”
Well, turns out the Med diet never really went away in the first place, says Amy Shapiro, RD and founder of Real Nutrition. “New trends came out that promised fast weight loss results and felt more drastic so it got drowned out a little bit,” she says. But all the while, the Mediterranean diet stayed quietly in the background of the wellness world, doing its thing. (Kind of like a less-problematic version of the Fiji water girl at the Golden Globes.)
“People are looking for something sustainable that doesn’t require too much overthinking. The Mediterranean diet is just that.” —Vanessa Rissetto, RD
And Vanessa Rissetto, RD, adds that people are starting to get over trendy diets. “[People are] looking for something sustainable that doesn’t require too much overthinking,” she says. “The Mediterranean diet is just that—you can eat varied foods and incorporate things that you like, all while being able to lose weight,” she says.
Yet Shapiro says that the Mediterranean diet isn’t specifically meant for weight management (another refreshing point in its favor). “It really focused on longevity and overall wellbeing and health,” she says, concepts that are more popular thanks to our society’s shift toward wellness and body acceptance. She likens the diet to avocados (which, yes, are allowed on this eating plan): “Not low in fat, not low in calories, but really good for you so everyone loves them.” And there’s generally no calorie-, carb-, or macro-counting required, either—making it not really a “diet” in the traditional sense.
Unlike keto, paleo, and Whole30—which Shapiro says are “restrictive in nature” because they eliminate food items and even whole food groups—the Mediterranean diet is generally pretty permissive. “The Mediterranean diet doesn’t emphasize meat, but rather fish and shellfish, and utilizes up to a liter of olive oil per week in many cultures—quite different from the butter, lard, and coconut oil of the keto and paleo plans,” says Steven Gundry, MD, author of The Plant Paradox and the upcoming The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age.
And because it’s so inclusive, the Mediterranean diet can be adapted to suit your personal needs and goals rather than requiring a massive overhaul of how you eat. “Today, many people are combining the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet with other dietary patterns to serve their needs,” says Whitney English Tabaie, MS, RDN, CPT. “Some vegan or vegetarian dieters may incorporate a few servings of fish per week into their usually plant-based diet in order to reap the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which are mainly found in seafood.”
There’s tons of compelling research that supports the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. The same can’t quite be said for some other trendy eating plans.
Another reason for its resurgence in popularity is a familiar wellness buzzword: inflammation. “In recent years, there has been a rise in interest in inflammation and inflammatory diseases, and the Mediterranean diet is the OG inflammation-fighting diet,” says English Tabaie. She cites research that has connected a Mediterranean diet with reduced risk of several age-related diseases believed to be driven by inflammation, including certain cancers and cognitive decline. “The term ‘inflammaging’ was even coined in recent years to describe the association between chronic low-grade inflammation and age-related disease progression,” she says.
In fact, the scientific evidence showing the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet is one of the reasons it continues to be popular among health experts. “So many well controlled human trials and studies continue to prove the value of a Mediterranean diet in preventing heart disease, dementia, and even cancer,” says Dr. Gundry.
Other science-backed benefits of the Med diet include a healthier gut, stronger bones, and longevity. The fact that several of the world’s Blue Zones are in the Mediterranean, where people have been eating this way for hundreds of years, shouldn’t be a surprise. Other eating plans don’t have quite the same research cred; there have been limited studies on the effects of the keto diet on healthy adults, and the paleo diet similarly has limited research behind its benefits and effects.
An eating plan that’s easy, legit, and delicious? When looking at the evidence, it’s pretty easy to see why the Mediterranean diet is the great comeback kid of 2019. What’s old is new again, and for good reason.
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