Is The Green Mediterranean Diet Healthy? Experts Weigh In.
Even if you live nowhere close to the Mediterranean Sea, by now you’re probably familiar with the basics of the Mediterranean diet. This anti-inflammatory eating plan has earned justifiable accolades for health benefits like lowering cholesterol and helping with weight loss. But just when you thought you knew all about the world’s healthiest diet, another version of it has come along promising even more health perks. The so-called Green Mediterranean diet is a new take on Mediterranean eating that some say is actually better for you—not to mention better for the planet.
So what exactly is this tweaked form of a Med diet, and does it really outperform a traditional one for health? We asked experts and consulted the latest research.
What is the Green Mediterranean Diet?
Much like its name suggests, a Green Mediterranean diet takes the usual Mediterranean eating plan and simply adjusts it to be more plant-based. (You can think of it as though the Mediterranean diet and vegan diet got together and had sweet lil’ green baby.) Whereas a typical Med diet includes regular small servings of lean meats like chicken and turkey and even occasional portions of beef or lamb, these are absent from a Green Mediterranean plate. Similarly, the seafood that makes regular appearances on a Mediterranean diet is mostly supplanted (pun intended) by proteins like beans, lentils, nuts, tofu, and quinoa.
Other foods from the Med diet remain the same, however. On a Green Mediterranean eating plan, you can still expect to eat plenty of olive oil, fruits, veggies, whole grains, herbs, and spices. And if you want to be really true to this diet’s principles, you’ll add some surprising extras: a daily handful of walnuts, plenty of green tea, and regular servings of Mankai duckweed (a high-protein “supergreen”).
What’s with these unusual ingredients? The “founders” of the Green Mediterranean diet were a team of researchers who wanted to see how supplementing with high-antioxidant foods would impact health outcomes. Their 6-month study, published in 2020, found that people who added these elements to a Mediterranean diet experienced improvements in multiple cardiometabolic markers.
Walnuts and green tea are easy enough to come by, but if you can’t track down Mankai duckweed, never fear—you can continue to reap the benefits of a Green Mediterranean diet. “You can still follow a green Mediterranean diet without Mankai,” says Haley Bishoff, RDN, plant-based dietitian and owner of Rūtsu Nutrition. “You’ll just want to add other sources of omega 3, like [more] walnuts, flax or even a reputable supplement.”
Is it healthy to follow?
With its emphasis on nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, a Green Mediterranean diet is a smart choice for most people. “[It] is a healthy eating pattern, considering it is balanced, highly unprocessed and primarily plant-based,” says Bishoff. “The Green Mediterranean diet is packed full of fiber and anti-inflammatory foods, which can help with a number of health issues.”
Plus, following this version of Med diet may offer benefits for specific groups of people. “I work with clients who are looking to level up their nutrition for both weight loss and longevity. The Green Mediterranean diet increases satiety by focusing on fiber-rich plants and protein, while promoting overall health from foods rich in polyphenols,” says Bonnie Newlin, MS, RD, LDN, CLT, founder and CEO of Crave Nourishment. She also says the diet may be useful in treating lipidemia and non-alcoholic fatty liver.
Clearly, this lean, green Mediterranean machine is full of good-for-you components—but is it any healthier than a “regular” Med diet? Research indicates that it might be. Again, in the 2020 study that compared a Green Mediterranean diet to a traditional one, people on the green version had even better health outcomes in multiple areas. These included reductions in LDL cholesterol, diastolic blood pressure, insulin resistance, and inflammatory markers. Another study from 2022 found that people with obesity on a Green Med diet experienced more positive changes to their gut microbiome than those on a typical Med diet.
Of course, like any other diet, a Green Mediterranean eating plan isn’t for absolutely everyone. People who need extra of certain nutrients in meat, like vitamin B12 or iron, may want to pass on this option. And before you dive in, consider whether any other health or lifestyle issues might make this diet tough for you to follow. “It’s always important to speak with a registered dietitian and your healthcare team before making any drastic changes to your diet,” Bishoff advises.
Sample Green Mediterranean Diet meal plan
If you’re ready to go green, try this tasty meal plan for a sample day:
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs cooked in olive oil with spinach, tomatoes, and fresh herbs, 1 cup of fruit, 1 cup of green tea
- Lunch: Extra-firm tofu stir-fry with brown rice, broccoli, and edamame
- Snack: Mankai protein shake with yogurt, walnuts, and cinnamon
- Dinner: Garlic-sautéed chickpeas atop quinoa, side salad topped with a homemade walnut dressing, 1 cup of green tea
- Dessert: Fruit parfait with honey drizzle
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