How to follow a Mediterranean diet for weight loss

Foods for a Mediterranean diet in a spread
(Image credit: Getty)

If you’re thinking about how to follow a Mediterranean diet for weight loss, you probably already know there are multiple proven health benefits to this way of eating. 

An ever-growing body of evidence shows that it significantly reduces the risk of developing many chronic conditions. For example, a narrative review published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that eating a Mediterranean diet cuts the chances of developing cardiovascular disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 diabetes. Check our article on the seven science-backed benefits of the Mediterranean diet to find out more. 

When we talk about the Mediterranean diet, we mean the traditional eating and drinking habits of people from countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea (such as Greece and Italy). With such a vast geographical area there are naturally variations, but the key principles are the same across the region - cooking from scratch, avoiding highly-processed foods and celebrating meals with loved ones. 

Plus, the diet is largely based around seasonal, fresh fruit and vegetables as well as wholegrains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and olive oil. As such, it has many features of a successful weight loss strategy. Here’s how to make it work for you, if you want to lose weight while staying healthy. Plus, our guide to the best meal replacement shakes may help to aid you in your weight loss journey, alongside balanced whole meals. 

Can the Mediterranean diet help you to lose weight?

While the Mediterranean diet is certainly healthy, and might help you to lose weight so long as you follow a balanced lifestyle, it’s hard to categorically say whether it’s better for weight loss than any other diet. 

An extensive review published in The American Journal of Medicine, for example, compared the Mediterranean diet with a low-fat diet, a low-carbohydrate diet and the American Diabetes Association diet. It found they all resulted in a similar level of weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction. 

Similarly, another review published in the journal Nutrients compared the slimming potential of the Mediterranean, Atkins, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), GI (glycemic index), Ornish, Zone and Paleo diets.

vegan Mediterranean diet

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The findings indicated that only the Atkins Diet was able to bring clinically meaningful short-term and long-term results. (However, the researchers pointed out that further diets could be equally or even more effective for weight loss.) 

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the Mediterranean diet can’t help you to lose weight. Unlike the Atikins diet, it’s also a fairly flexible and unrestrictive approach - more of a lifestyle choice. As a result, it’s relatively easy to introduce minor, sustainable tweaks that could help nudge the scales down.

Depending on your age and lifestyle, the Mediterranean diet could also be especially useful. A study published in Nutrition, for example, found it helped menopausal women ward off obesity, improve their cardiovascular and metabolic health and even experience fewer menopausal symptoms. 

What to eat on a Mediterranean diet for weight loss

If you’ve ever attempted to lose weight, you’ll know very well that it’s no easy task. Weight management depends on a range of complex factors, including dietary habits, physical activity levels and health status. Nevertheless, a few key principles will maximize your chances of losing unwanted pounds on a Mediterranean diet.  

By far, the most important factor is maintaining a consistent calorie deficit. Daily energy requirements are shaped by individual’s age, sex, height, weight, muscle mass, health status and physical activity levels. The best way to calculate your calorie needs and track your food intake accordingly is to use a calorie counting app. They’re easy to use, come with a handy barcode scanner and allow you to save your favorite recipes, helping you to stay accountable. 

healthy breakfast, breakfast, oatmeal

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It’s also crucial to think about your macronutrients. Carbohydrates and fats provide the most energy for the human body and as such, diets with low fat or low carbohydrate content tend to produce better results. The Mediterranean diet’s hallmark, however, is olive oil. Although it’s long been credited with a list of health benefits, it is high in calories. To strike a good balance, aim for around three tablespoons of olive oil a day. 

Furthermore, consider cutting down on foods rich in simple and starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta. Instead, increase your vegetable intake and introduce more beans and pulses, which contain more fiber and complex carbohydrates. 

Last, but not least, make sure you get enough good quality protein to fill you up and sustain your metabolism. Thankfully, it’s not a difficult task. The Mediterranean diet contains a lot of excellent protein sources including fish, lean white meat, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Make sure you include them in every meal, aiming to fill at least a quarter of your plate with protein foods

Mediterranean diet for weight loss: Protein

If you’re using the Mediterranean diet for weight loss it can help to up your protein intake even further, as evidenced in a study in the British Journal of Nutrition

It’s also worth looking into a dietary pattern commonly referred to as KEMEPHY (ketogenic Mediterranean diet with phytoextracts). This means following the principles of a Mediterranean diet but with a low-carb, higher-fat and higher-protein approach.

Research published in BMC Proceedings suggested that this triggers more weight loss than a low-calorie Mediterranean diet, while research published in Nutrients showed that the results were even greater when a KEMEPHY diet was introduced in recurring phases. 

What to drink with a Mediterranean diet

When we imagine Mediterranean meals, we think about red wine - but if you want to lose weight it’s best to keep this to an occasional treat, and make water your primary drink of choice. 

Red wine may have some health benefits, but it’s very calorific - one bottle can easily contain up to 700 calories. It’s a good idea to be careful with your alcohol consumption, but if you want a drink, try swapping wine for a glass of gin and slimline tonic, at only 115 calories. And if you’re after resveratrol and proanthocyanidins, the key antioxidants in red wine, you can find them in many supplements instead.  

It’s also wise to cut down on full-fat milk and juice. Within the Mediterranean diet dairy products are used sparingly, coming mostly in the form of cheese or yogurt. Adding full-fat milk will needlessly elevate your saturated fat and calorie intake. Similarly, the Mediterranean diet involves eating a lot of fruit, so it’s not necessary to drink fruit juices (which contain high amounts of easily-digestible sugar) on top. You can have a look at the vegan Mediterranean diet for a plant-based approach.

Plus, if you’re serious about your weight loss goals, don’t forget about other important factors. Increase your levels of physical activity, and break a sweat at least three times a week. Make sure to get enough sleep too, and lower your stress levels. And stay consistent. You’ve got this.

Anna Gora
Health Writer

Anna Gora is a health writer at Live Science, having previously worked across Coach, Fit&Well, T3, TechRadar and Tom's Guide. She is a certified personal trainer, nutritionist and health coach with nearly 10 years of professional experience. Anna holds a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, a Master’s degree in Nutrition, Physical Activity & Public Health from the University of Bristol, as well as various health coaching certificates. She is passionate about empowering people to live a healthy lifestyle and promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet.