- A recent study looked at the health effects of a new version of the Mediterranean diet called the Green Mediterranean Diet.
- The Green Mediterranean Diet is more effective than the original in reducing the amount of visceral fat around internal organs.
- Visceral fat has been linked to early mortality and a host of other serious medical issues.
- A key part of the new diet is the inclusion of nuts, which are rich in polyphenols.
A new large-scale clinical intervention trial has found that a modified Mediterranean diet — called the Green Mediterranean Diet — is more effective at reducing visceral fat that can surround and damage organs than either the standard Mediterranean diet or a generally healthy diet.
All three diets resulted in a reduction in visceral fat, but the green Mediterranean diet doubled the benefits of the “traditional” Mediterranean diet.
The study was conducted by the DIRECT-PLUS trial research team. It was led by Professor Iris Shai of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and Dr Hila Zelicha, now at the University of California, Los Angeles, assisted by colleagues from Italy, Germany and the United States.
The study appears in
The Green Mediterranean Diet differs from the Original Mediterranean Diet in that it emphasizes polyphenols.
Polyphenols are plant compounds that have been linked to protection against type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease. They also appear to support brain health and digestion.
Polyphenols are found in dark chocolate, berries, red wine, and tea, as well as some nuts, such as walnuts.
On the Green Mediterranean Diet, as considered in this study, a person consumes 28 grams of nuts – about seven nuts – 3 to 4 cups of green tea and 100 milligrams of the aquatic plant Wolffia globosa (Mankai) – also known as “duckweed” – in a smoothie or shake each day. All are rich in polyphenols.
Otherwise, the diet is the same as the original Mediterranean diet, but without the consumption of red and processed meats.
For the 18-month randomized controlled trial, the researchers divided the 294 participants into three groups:
- one group followed a standard Mediterranean diet (MED)
- one followed a green Mediterranean diet (green-MED)
- a final group strictly followed the Healthy Dietary Guidelines (HDG).
All groups received educational lifestyle sessions and physical activity recommendations, as well as a free gym membership.
The researchers provided the nuts, tea and Mankai, as well as green smoothie recipes.
“The clinical trial was well conducted and these types of long-term dietary interventions are very difficult to perform. The study generated many hypotheses that can now be tested regarding the mechanism by which polyphenols affect TVA mass .
“VAT” stands for “visceral adipose tissue,” which is another term for visceral fat. “Adipose” describes body tissue that stores fat.
At the end of the trial, reductions in visceral fat were assessed via
Participants on the Green Mediterranean Diet reduced their visceral fat by more than 14%. Those on the Mediterranean diet lost 6% and the healthy diet group lost 4.2%.
While overall weight and appearance are often the metrics by which people judge diets, visceral fat is a much more serious concern.
Dr Zelicha told MNT that “in terms of the health risks associated with excess fat, visceral adipose tissue is far more dangerous than the extra ‘tire’ around your waist.”
“VAT,” Dr. Zelicha said, “has been linked to several health issues, such as
Visceral fat is deep in the body and is found around internal organs, unlike the superficial layer of fat that we can see.
“Most of the interventions currently available do not specifically target deep adipose tissue,” Dr. Cypess pointed out, “yet the benefits of fat loss, in general, are still valuable.”
Since it cannot be seen, determining if one has VAT is not a simple task. While Dr. Zelicha noted that waist circumference is a fairly good indicator of the presence of TVA, MRI and computed tomography (CT) are the gold standard for detection.
“However, CT scan involves ionizing radiation and MRI has become a powerful non-invasive predictive tool, but it is very expensive and time-consuming,” she warned.
There is still a need, said Dr. Zelicha, for a better, easily accessible and validated tool to assess VAT.
At the time of writing, the Green Mediterranean Diet is the diet that most significantly reduces visceral fat, according to recent research.
As Dr. Cypess noted, “Most diets cause a reduction in fatty tissue around the organs. Even in this study, the HDG control arm resulted in visceral fat loss, but not as much as the [green Mediterranean] diet.”
Since effective diets generally result in at least some reduction in VAT, Dr. Cypess asserted, “the best diet and exercise plan is one that the person can adhere to for months and years into the future.”
Dr. Zelicha said aerobic exercise such as running or cycling has “proven to be a powerful strategy for the reduction of visceral adipose tissue.“
In Professor Shai’s previous research, such exercise combined with nut consumption amplified the effect of the standard Mediterranean diet on lowering VAT, Dr Zelicha said.
“Eating more vegetable fats,” Dr. Zelicha suggested, “like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds, and avoiding simple carbs and trans fatty acids can help lower VAT.”
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