The ‘Green’ Mediterranean Diet Might Be Even Better for Heart Health Than the Original Version

Photo: Stocksy/Liliya Rodnikova
For most health experts, the health credentials of the Mediterranean diet are pretty rock-solid. While the eating plan isn't ideal for all people, hundreds of studies over the past few decades have linked the eating plan—which advocates for lean proteins, whole grains, seafood, and plenty of vegetables along with the occasional glass of wine—to benefits for heart health, brain health, and preventing chronic inflammation. But a new study published this month in the medical journal Heart found that a "green" Mediterranean diet—which involves a few small tweaks to the classic plan—may make the eating plan's heart-healthy benefits even more potent.

Watch the video below to learn more about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet:

In the study, researchers had 294 men and women follow one of three diets for 18 months. The first group followed a "healthy dietary guidance" plan (HDG), meaning that they received advice on how to increase daily activity and create a healthy diet. The second group followed the OG Mediterranean diet and received the same advice that the HDG group did. (They also consumed 28 grams of walnuts per day.) The third group followed what the researchers called a "green Mediterranean diet," where they added three to four cups of green tea and a daily plant-based protein shake (made with a water plant native to parts of Asia called Wolffia globosa, or duckweed) to the standard Mediterranean diet. (The shake, the authors noted, partially replaced animal-based proteins.) Both the Med diet and the "green" Med diet groups consumed the same amount of calories per day.

While all the groups enjoyed beneficial health results, the "green Mediterranean diet" group saw the biggest positive changes when the researchers checked in with them six months later. This group experienced the biggest decline in unhealthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which is especially good news on the heart health front. After all, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.

While more research needs to be done as to why this specific iteration of the Mediterranean diet had such impressive results, the researchers suggested that "while calorie-restricted MED diets promote weight loss and benefit metabolic state, the green MED diet, lower in meat/poultry and richer in green plants food sources, provides a greater [waist-circumference] regression and significant improvement in cardiovascular risk."

There are some advantages to some of the unique foods that the green Med diet ate as well. Registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, previously shared with Well+Good that green tea is full of antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation. Scientific studies have also linked antioxidants (such as those in green tea) to reducing heart disease and protecting the liver.

Curious as to how the benefits of green tea compare to matcha? Watch the video below:

In terms of replacing animal protein with the green shake, you don't have to hunt down duckweed to experience the same rewards. Other research has shown that people who lowered their intake of animal products and increased the amount of plant-based foods they ate improved cardiovascular health, including lowering the rate for heart disease by 24 percent. This is because plants are a good source of both fiber and (drumroll) antioxidants.

While the benefits of the "green Mediterranean diet" are interesting, it's also important to call out the study's shortcomings. All the study's participants worked at the same place, a research center located in Israel, which means there is very likely a lack of diversity of the type of people taken into account. There were also mostly men, not women, included in the study. In order to more fully confirm these benefits, future participant pools need to have more women and more people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Still, if you're looking for a sign to brew yourself a cup of tea, consider this your green light.

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