Almost 50% of American people suffer from chronic diseases which are related to a poor quality diet. The quest for the perfect diet has taken many different directions over the past decades. But as nutritional research is evolving, some of the long-held ideas about dieting are being turned on their head.
One of these ideas is that the perfect diet is one which is low in fat. We are already seeing different recommendations with the Keto diet, which is a high-fat, low-carb, moderate protein diet.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, places emphasis on plant-based foods, such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, and nuts. Each diet has its advantages, but can they both be sustained long-term?
Mediterranean Diet 101
If you’re looking for a meal plan that’s heart-healthy, the Mediterranean diet is a good option. This diet incorporates the traditional style of cooking from those countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, France, Spain, as well as Greece, Morocco, and Albania.
The Mediterranean diet places emphasis on the following:
- Meals which contain plant-based whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts
- Replacing salt with herbs and spices to flavor food
- Using healthy fats like canola and extra virgin olive oil instead of butter
- Eating poultry and fish at least twice a week
- Limiting red meat to one or twice each month
- Limiting dairy products
- Avoiding processed foods
- Drinking moderate amounts of red wine
Although many healthy diet plans limit unhealthy fat and promote vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts, often there are subtle variations in the proportions of these foods. This is an important factor to consider because balancing your diet can make a significant difference in your risk of heart disease.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is considered to be one of the best diets for good health. It is also one of the most well-studied diets and research has shown that it has a number of health benefits. These include:
- Keeping Cholesterol in Check: One of the ways in which the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease is by helping to maintain a balance between HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).
- Reducing the risk of cognitive decline: The Mediterranean diet uses healthy fats which benefit the brain. Not only does this boost brain function, but it also reduces the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
- Protecting heart health: Following a Mediterranean diet can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and other chronic diseases. It can also help you maintain healthy blood pressure.
- Strengthening bones: A Mediterranean diet which is rich in olive oil may help to preserve bone density and protect your body against osteoporosis.
- Balancing blood sugar: The Mediterranean diet has been shown to have beneficial effects on diabetes. It can help to balance blood sugar. It may also be able to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Protecting against cancer: Several studies suggest that following a Mediterranean diet may significantly reduce the risk of cancers such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, and prostate cancer.
- Fighting depression: Research indicates that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing depression than those who follow other diets.
Components of the Mediterranean Diet
Although there are some subtle variations based on region, the Mediterranean diet is traditionally comprised of the following components:
Enjoy Vegetables, Fruits, Whole grains, and Nuts
The main ingredients in a typical Mediterranean diet are vegetables, fruits, rice, and pasta. For example, daily meals may seldom include red meat, but will often include up to nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables which are rich in antioxidants.
Mediterranean grains are usually whole grain and contain little or no trans-fats. Although bread is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, it is eaten plain dipped in olive oil rather than eaten with butter.
Nuts play a big role in the Mediterranean diet and although they are high in fat, it is unsaturated fat. Generally, no more than a handful of nuts are eaten per day, as they are high in calories.
Sticking to Healthy Fats
The Mediterranean diet does not advocate limiting the consumption of fat, but rather making healthy choices about which fats to include in your diet. If you are following the Mediterranean diet, you should avoid hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and saturated fats, as both of these can contribute to heart disease.
The primary source of fat in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil. Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fat, which helps to lower LDL cholesterol when it’s used to replace trans fats and saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats such as canola oil also contain linoleic acid, which is a form of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s help to protect the heart. They can also be found in fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, tuna, and wild salmon.
Ketogenic Diet 101
The prefix “keto” in ketogenic refers to the fact that this diet stimulates the body to produce molecules known as ketones. Ketones provide an alternative source of fuel for the body to use when glucose (blood sugar) is in short supply.
Usually, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. Your body produces ketones when you limit your intake of carbohydrates and eat only a moderate amount of protein – this prevents proteins from being converted to glucose. Ketones are produced in the liver from fat. They serve the body’s organs as energy, particularly the brain.
When you follow a ketogenic diet, your body switches its fuel supply from glucose to burning fat. Fat burning can increase significantly, particularly when insulin levels become depleted.
There are two main versions of the ketogenic diet:
- The standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This version requires a high-fat, very low-carbohydrate, and moderate protein intake. Typically, it contains 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs.
- The cyclic ketogenic diet (CKD): This version involves 5 days of SKD followed by 2 days of high-carb days.
Benefits of the Keto Diet
Research into the keto diet has focused mainly on the SKD, which becoming an increasingly popular diet and has a number of health benefits. These include:
Improving blood sugar: A high- fat, low-carb diet, such as the keto carnivore diet may improve levels of blood sugar. This could benefit people who suffer from type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Decreasing inflammation: A high-fat, low-carb diet, such as the keto diet, may reduce inflammation in the brain.
Improving testosterone: Studies indicate that men who follow a high-fat, a low-carb diet have an increased level of testosterone compared to those who follow other diets.
Improving brain health: Because the keto diet is so low in carbohydrates, it may benefit the brain’s neurons. This could improve concentration and mental clarity.
Increasing weight loss: While the keto diet does promote faster weight loss compared to other low-carb or low-fat diets, in the short-term it would appear that this difference in weight loss tends to level out over time.
Components of the Keto Diet
The Keto diet provides pretty strict guidelines on what you can and cannot eat in order to reach and maintain a state of ketosis to facilitate losing weight.
What you can eat:
Meat: For the keto diet, organic and grass-fed meat is optimal. Many of your calories will come from fatty cuts of red meat. You can also eat pork and bacon. Be careful that your meat intake is not so high as to increase your protein level past the Keto limit. You should avoid processed meats as these often contain added carbs.
Fish and seafood: On the Keto diet you can eat just about all types of fish and seafood. Preferred options are fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. You should avoid fish that has been breaded because this adds extra carbs. Fish caught in the wild has optimal health benefits.
Eggs: The Keto diet encourages the incorporation of eggs in your diet. What’s more, you can eat them any way you like; scrambled, fried in butter, boiled, poached, eggs benedict, or in a steak omelet. Keto dieters recommend 3-5 eggs per day. Cage-free, organic eggs are the healthiest option.
High-fat sauces: Most of your Keto calories should come from fat. While you’ll be getting a lot of it from meat, eggs, and fish, you can also use fat when you cook. Use butter, coconut oil, and olive oil. As well as adding oil to salads, you can make high-fat sauces such as hollandaise, bearnaise, and garlic butter.
Vegetables which grow above ground: Your vegetables can be fresh or frozen. It doesn’t matter as long as they are not root-vegetables. This is because they are low in carbs. Favorites include cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli, avocado, and spinach. You can use them to replace your carbs such as pasta, rice, and potatoes.
High-fat dairy: Keto contenders recommend plenty of butter, full-fat milk, as well as high-fat cheese and yogurts.
Mediterranean vs. Keto: Similarities
You may be surprised to find out that both diets do share some similarities. These include:
- Health benefits: Both diets have been shown to increase HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol as well as lowering triglycerides. Both the Keto and the Mediterranean diet also show promise for reducing the risk of certain types of cancer. They may also both have health benefits for people who suffer from type 2 diabetes.
- Sodium intake: The Keto diet is low in sodium, which is one of the reasons people using this diet need to make sure that they keep their electrolytes balanced. Although the Mediterranean diet does contain some salty foods, they are in moderation, which is why the Mediterranean diet helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure level.
- Healthy foods: Both diets emphasize fresh, organic produce that is free from preservatives, additives, pesticides, and antibiotics.
Mediterranean vs. Keto: Differences
Although they have a few common traits, the Mediterranean and Keto diets have numerous differences. These include:
- Carbohydrate intake: While the Mediterranean diet places emphasis on healthy fats and cuts out refined sugar, it does still include a high level of carbs, including pasta, fruits, and whole-grain bread. The Keto diet, on the other hand, is very rigid about keeping carbs to a minimum, even unrefined ones.
- Fat intake: Although the Mediterranean diet has a higher fat content than typical low-fat diets, it still has a much lower range than the Keto diet. The types of fat used in each diet are also different. Whereas the Keto diet includes saturated and unsaturated fats, the Mediterranean diet placed emphasis on unsaturated fats obtained from fish and healthy oils.
- End results: Both diets can help to improve overall health, especially if you were not following a particularly healthy diet beforehand. It’s important to remember that the Keto diet is more than just a quick way to lose weight, it does have other health benefits. The Mediterranean diet is a good place to start if you are trying to clean up your diet. If you are also trying to lose weight, you may need to reduce your carb intake over time.
Making the Best of Both Worlds: The Keto-Mediterranean Diet
Is it possible to take advantage of the Mediterranean and the keto diets at the same time? It may be. The Keto-Mediterranean diet is an attempt to incorporate the most healthful aspects of each diet. Followers of the Keto-Mediterranean diet intake around 55-65% fat, 22-30% protein, and 7-10% carbs.
Components of the Keto-Mediterranean Diet
If you would like to combine the benefits of both Keto and Mediterranean diet to the best advantage, you need to incorporate the following:
- Large amounts of healthy oils (particularly olive, canola, and coconut) as well as other fatty plants such as avocados
- Your main protein sources should be fatty fish, followed by eggs, cheese, and then lean, unprocessed meat
- Plenty of fresh, leafy green salad and non-starchy vegetables
In this combination diet, sugars, starches, and grain-based flours are eliminated completely. The main difference in the Keto-Mediterranean diet is that different fat sources are emphasized.
If you’re looking for ways you can change your eating plan to improve your health, protect your heart and reduce the effects of aging, the Mediterranean diet is one of your best options. If you’re looking for a diet which can help you lose weight quickly, the Keto diet may be for you, though it may not be sustainable over the long-term. You may be able to get the best results from both diets by combining the two.