New research has indicated that following a pro-vegetarian diet, rich in plant foods while low in animal foods, can reduce the risk of obesity by almost half. This eating plan includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and olive oil, all of which are components of the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet).

Eating the nutrition-dense foods of the MedDiet simply serves to crowd out higher calorie, lower quality, high-glycemic processed foods known to cause inflammation and obesity.- Vickie Modica, naturopathic physician

As this approach to weight loss doesn’t require counting calories or self-deprivation, it has long-term sustainability. Instead of being a system that involves gimmicks, pills or potions, the MedDiet is a lifestyle of eating nutritious food. In contrast with some weight loss measures that carry health risks or side effects, this eating plan is renowned for its health benefits. For these reasons, it’s the best possible strategy for weight management.

The study at the University of Navarra and the Carlos III Institute of Health in Spain tracked 16,000 people for an average of ten years. Participants were required to complete food surveys to record their intake of seven plant food groups and five animal food groups. The plant foods were vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, nuts and potatoes; and the animal foods were eggs, animal fats, dairy, meat, fish and other seafood. During the study’s time span, 584 individuals became obese.

Analysis of the data found the higher the consumption of plant foods in the diet, compared to the consumption of meats and animal fats, the lower the likelihood of becoming overweight. The 20 percent of those who ate the most plant foods had a 43-percent lower risk of developing obesity, compared to the 20 percent who ate the least plant foods.

Participants with the lowest risk didn’t completely eliminate meat, but their intake was much lower than the quantity typically found in the western diet. Those in this group also ate plenty of fish, which is an important part of the MedDiet.

“Our study suggests that plant-based diets are associated with substantially lower risk of developing obesity. This supports current recommendations to shift to diets rich in plant foods, with lower intake of animal foods,” said the study’s authors. The findings were presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal.

What characteristics of the MedDiet make it especially conducive to weight management? “Eating the nutrition-dense foods of the MedDiet simply serves to crowd out higher calorie, lower quality, high-glycemic processed foods known to cause inflammation and obesity,” naturopathic physician Vickie Modica of Seattle, Washington told Olive Oil Times. “In this way, it’s a simple matter of more healthy food leaving less room for unhealthy, disease causing foods.”

“Perhaps more interestingly, we’re seeing evidence that these same diets affect the gut microflora in a way that seems to have an anti-obesity effect. The details of how these bacteria signal changes to our endocrine and nervous systems are currently being researched and hold promise in obesity prevention,” she said.

The Mediterranean diet is commonly consumed in Spain, Italy and Greece. It’s comprised of three servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables per day, along with generous amounts of olive oil, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes. The plan usually includes at least four servings of fish per week, but it limits meat to no more than three servings per week.

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