The Mediterranean diet is well researched, with a number of studies demonstrating that it can be helpful for weight loss and also reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Because it's more of an eating style than a specific diet, there's no one official reference for how to follow it. However, a so-called "non-profit food think tank" has created a Mediterranean diet pyramid to depict its focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood, some poultry, eggs and cheese, and healthy oils.
A panel of experts warns that weight loss depends on whether you build a calorie deficit into your Mediterranean eating plan, which is largely up to you. Several studies found the Mediterranean diet to be superior to a low-fat plan. The fact that it isn't linked to a single book, author or website can be both a help and a hindrance. There's an abundance of free and low-cost information about how to follow it, and you can choose the interpretation that bests suits your life and views -- but this may mean sifting through more information than you'd have to analyze for a more typical commercial diet.
A number of scientific studies compare various forms of the Mediterranean diet to other diets, usually low-fat or low-carb varieties. The Mediterranean diet also appears in reviews from U.S. News, Health magazine and The Daily Beast. A Mediterranean food pyramid from Oldways may be helpful for understanding this diet, but we could find no user comments about it, perhaps because it's not linked to a specific website or book.
1. The New England Journal of Medicine
This two-year study follows more than 300 moderately obese subjects assigned to either a low-carb, low-fat or Mediterranean-style diet. The low-carb and Mediterranean groups showed more weight loss than the low-fat group; women lost the most weight on the Mediterranean diet.
Review: Weight Loss With a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean or Low-Fat Diet, Iris Shai, RD, PhD, et al., July 17, 2008
2. The American Journal of Medicine
Researchers analyze six trials, comparing the success of low-fat and Mediterranean diets. After a two-year follow-up, the Mediterranean diet is determined to be more effective for inducing "clinically relevant long-term changes in cardiovascular risk factors and inflammatory markers."
Review: Meta-Analysis Comparing Mediterranean to Low-Fat Diets for Modification of Cardiovascular Risk Factors, A.J. Nordmann, et al., Sept. 2011
3. Nutrition Research
In this study, more than 120 participants are split into two groups. One group receives general low-fat diet advice, while the other receives structured "whole of diet" advice that mimics a Mediterranean-style diet. By the end of the study, the "whole of diet" group had done more to optimize their dietary fat profile than the general-advice group.
Review: Optimizing Dietary Fat in a Weight-Loss Trial Requires Advice Based on a Structured "Whole-of-Diet" Model, Lynda J. Ross, et al., Sept. 2011
4. Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants
In this review of the latest research on weight-loss treatments, the author concludes that Mediterranean and low-carb diets are more effective than the American Heart Association's low-fat diet for maintaining sustainable weight loss.
Review: Obesity: The Current Treatment Protocols, Gilbert A. Boissonneault, PhD, PA-C, Jan. 1, 2009
5. U.S. News & World Report
U.S. News consults a panel of health experts and ultimately ranks the Mediterranean diet as the third-best overall, giving it 3.9 out of 5 stars. Diets are evaluated on a number of factors, including nutrition, safety and efficacy.
Review: Mediterranean Diet, Editors of U.S. News & World Report, June 2011
A registered dietitian reviews "The Mediterranean Diet," just one of many books by various authors about this type of eating plan. She concludes that although the diet itself is healthful, the book is somewhat useless.
Review: The Mediterranean Diet, Maureen Callahan, MS, RD, April 18, 2008
7. The Daily Beast
Editors compile data from clinical studies and rank the Mediterranean diet at No. 4 in this listing of most-effective diets, with a 4 percent attrition rate and a mean weight loss of 10.4 pounds over one year.
Review: Most-Effective Diets, Editors of The Daily Beast, Jan. 2, 2011
This "non-profit food think tank" offers a pyramid-style guide to help consumers understand the customary diet of people living in the southern Mediterranean region.
Review: The Oldways Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, The Oldways Team, 1993