- A recent study showed the “green” Mediterranean diet reduced visceral fat by 14%, twice as much as the classic Mediterranean diet (MED), which reduced visceral fat by 7%.
- The benefits of the green MED diet include a reduced risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and cognitive decline.
- The green MED diet is also shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and may be more protective against age-related brain atrophy than the traditional MED diet.
- According to experts, polyphenols play a major role in the effectiveness of the green MED diet.
Visceral fat is belly fat that accumulates deep in the abdomen. This type of fat surrounds the organs, including the liver, pancreas, and kidneys.
One of the most effective ways to reduce visceral fat is by adopting healthier eating habits. Ranked the best diet in the world for 5 years running, nutrition experts often recommend the Mediterranean diet (MED) for overall health.
The green MED diet includes more plant-based foods and less meat intake than the traditional MED diet. The DIRECT PLUS researchers determined that the MED diet offers numerous health benefits, from improving gut health to reducing the risk of age-related degenerative health conditions.
Now, a recent study published in
The results show further evidence that the green MED diet may be even more beneficial for health than the traditional version.
A key difference between the green Mediterranean diet and the classic Mediterranean diet is that the green version completely eliminates red and processed meats, whereas the classic version permits these foods on occasion.
Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices in Fort Collins, CO, explained that the green MED diet emphasizes plant-based proteins more than the traditional MED diet.
Another difference is that the green MED diet involves consuming green tea, walnuts, and Mankai duckweed (a high protein aquatic plant) daily due to the high content of healthful polyphenols found in these foods.
Burgess added that the green MED diet also involves more structure, as it has a set amount of calories, protein, and specific foods to eat daily, whereas the Mediterranean diet is more generalized.
While both versions of the MED diet contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods, the new research suggests that the green version may be even more impactful for preventing or managing chronic diseases.
One possible factor may be attributed to the aquatic duckweed plant, which served as a meat substitute in the study. The duckweed plant is high in bioavailable protein, iron, B12, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols, all of which are known for their health benefits.
“The green Mediterranean diet group was enriched with polyphenols — compounds in various plant-based foods —and have potential antioxidant and antiinflammatory roles in the prevention and management of several diseases, such as cardiovascular, hypertension, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease,” study authorHila Zelicha RD, PhD, clinical dietitian and postdoctoral fellow at the Department of General Surgery at the University of California Los Angeles, told Healthline.
The green MED diet offers similar health benefits to the traditional MED diet, such as:
- reduced risk of chronic disease
- lower cholesterol
- healthier blood pressure levels
A 2021 study shows that the green MED diet may have some added benefits compared to the classic MED diet, including:
Although research on the green MED diet is relatively new, Burgess added that the benefits may also include decreased DNA damage and a lower risk of depression and cognitive decline.
Polyphenols are common in plant-based foods.
According to Zelicha, the effects of polyphenols in the green MED diet can induce a higher breakdown of fatty acids and higher energy expenditure that may eventually affect the amount of fat accumulation.
Indeed, Zelicha’s study shows that polyphenols helped reduce visceral fat.
Nutritionists agree that polyphenols could play a role in treating obesity and promoting weight loss.
The new study shows that participants in the green Mediterranean diet group had higher levels of polyphenols in their plasma and urine due to the consumption of polyphenol-rich green tea, walnuts, and duckweed powder, which may explain the greater decrease in visceral fat seen in this group, Burgess said.
Laura Isaacson, RD, director of clinical dietetics for Vida Health in San Francisco, CA, told Healthline the high amount of polyphenols in a green MED diet is likely contributing to reduced visceral fat through several mechanisms.
Polyphenols may help block fat absorption after eating, increase the uptake of glucose into the muscles, stop new blood vessels from forming in fat tissue, and reduce chronic inflammation, Isaacson explained.
Furthermore, it’s best to get polyphenols through food rather than supplements, Isaacson noted. Foods high in polyphenols include:
Recent research showed that the green Mediterranean diet reduced the most visceral fat (14%) compared to the traditional Mediterranean diet (7%) and a healthy diet (4.5%).
Like the original MED diet, the green MED diet has many health benefits — some of which may be more impactful than the classic version.
These benefits include a reduced risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and cognitive decline. The green MED diet may also be more beneficial at lower cholesterol and blood pressure and is potentially more protective against age-related brain atrophy than the traditional MED diet.
Regarding the health effects of the green MED diet, the new study suggests polyphenols are a key ingredient, particularly when it comes to fat loss.
If you’re interested in learning more about how the green MED diet could benefit your health, you may wish to ask your healthcare team or a registered dietitian for more guidance.