Mediterranean Diet Vs Vegan Diet
Several of my recent posts have discussed the benefits of a mostly or entirely plant-based diet for athletes and highly active people. But what if you’re neither? What if weight loss is your primary goal?
That’s one big question underlying the Mediterranean diet vs vegan diet controversy. Would you lose more weight being mostly or entirely plant-based?
U.S. News and World Report commissioned a “panel of health experts” to rate 39 plant-based diets according to their health benefits and weight-loss effectiveness.
The list included three trendy, mostly plant-based options: the Mediterranean, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets. In the Best Diets Overall category, the U.S. News rated them in 1st, 2nd, and 9th place, respectively. They placed the vegan diet 17th.
Among the 12 Best Plant-Based Diets, the experts placed the Mediterranean diet 1st and the vegan diet 8th. Unfortunately, far too many of us rely on U.S. News or the medical gurus at the popular website Healthline for our dietary and health research.
Reviewing the studies directly, however, often leads to remarkably different conclusions about a diet’s effectiveness. So let’s consider medical researchers’ three latest dives into the “Mediterranean diet vs vegan diet for weight loss” dispute.
For example, just this past week, the American College of Nutrition Journal published the results of a randomized cross-over trial headed by Neal M. Barnard, M.D., of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.
The trial included 62 overweight adults. None were:
- people with type 1 diabetes
- pregnant or lactating
- smokers, drinkers, or drug abusers
- following a Mediterranean or vegan diet before the study.
During the study, they were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean or vegan diet for four months. Both groups attended weekly classes led by registered dietitians, physicians, and study personnel – all of whom were experts in the two diets.
The classes helped the participants maintain their 16-week commitment to their assigned diet.
Mediterranean Diet Vs Vegan Diet Consumption Requirements
Each group had specific guidelines about what foods, in what quantities, they’d be eating during the trial.
Those on the Mediterranean diet ate a minimum of:
- Two daily servings of vegetables,
- Two to three daily servings of fresh fruits
- Three weekly servings of legumes
- Three weekly servings of fish or shellfish
- Three weekly servings of nuts or seeds
They ate as much as they liked of
- low-fat cheese
- chocolate with at least 50-percent cocoa
- whole-grain cereals
They ate no more than one serving a week of:
- cured ham
- red meat
- fatty cheeses
Instead of red meat, they ate white meat with its visible fat removed. And they prepared their foods with extra virgin olive oil.
They limited or excluded:
- processed meats
- sweetened beverages
- processed snacks
The vegan group’s diet consisted of approximately 75% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 10% fat. It contained only vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruit.
No animal products, no added fat, and a daily 500mcg B12 supplement.
Neither group limited their calories. They continued their regular exercise and medications unless their physicians prescribed otherwise.
After four months, the groups went through a one-month washout period and then traded places. The strictly-regulated Mediterranean dieters switched with the vegan dieters.
What were the results? During their first 16 weeks, the vegan group lost an astonishing 18 pounds on average. That’s nine times what their Mediterranean-diet counterparts managed!
But four months after switching to the Mediterranean diet, they added about three pounds back to their waistlines (unlimited 50-percent chocolate, anyone?)
More Mediterranean Diet Vs Vegan Diet Research
The Physician’s Committee trial followed one published last November in JAMA and headed by Physician’s Committee member Dr. Hana Kahleova M.D., Ph.D.
The 16-week JAMA trial randomized 244 participants to either start a low-fat vegan diet or continue their regular one. The vegans dropped an average of 14 pounds; the others had no significant weight loss.
That same week, Heart magazine published a third randomized trial. It compared the regular Mediterranean diet with a “greener” plant-based version. The green group both lost more weight and scored higher on every health measure than the regular Mediterranean group!
The bottom line?
When rating the “best” diets, U.S. News and Report and other popular websites simply compete with the most recent research. The three new studies on the “Mediterranean diet vs vegan diet for weight loss” debate reveal a clear winner:
A low-fat vegan diet!