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Can the Mediterranean Diet Help You Lose Weight? (Studies Say Yes, But There’s Much More to It)

Better health never tasted so good.

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What’s not to love about the Mediterranean way of life? From Greece to Italy, Spain, the South of France, and beyond, folks living along the shores of this sea share an appreciation for delicious food. There, meals are celebrations. Another thing to celebrate: Science shows that women feasting on this type of fare maintain a healthy weight, even during menopause. Better yet: A review of five studies found folks lost weight by simply eating Mediterranean meals centered on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fish, plus helpings of olive oil and touches of meat and dairy for a year. And another study found that those who adhered to a Mediterranean diet were less likely to gain weight over long periods of time. No wonder experts from U.S. News & World Report ranked it the number-one best overall diet for the fifth year running.

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Benefits Beyond Slimming

Along with its proven weight loss powers, Mediterranean eating is a boon for your health. For example, women who eat this way report a reduction in hot flashes. They also see a drop in mood swings, a boost in overall emotional well-being, and an improvement in mental cognition. In fact, Mike Dow, PsyD, author of The Sugar Brain Fix, (Buy from Amazon, $12.49) promises, “The Mediterranean diet is packed with foods that support healthy brain chemistry.” And the feel-good benefits don’t end there: These meals also slash heart disease risk and improve sleep quality.

With all these benefits for your health, there’s no reason not to give the Mediterranean diet a try. And did we mention that it’s also delicious? Read on to see how to improve your health with this diet.

What foods can you eat on the Mediterranean diet?

Olive oil: Mediterranean dieters get a lot of their calories from olive oil, a liquid gold known to improve blood-sugar regulation, fending off cravings and doubling weight loss. The monounsaturated fatty acids in olives (as well as avocados) also help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol, along with the inflammation that can drive middle-age weight issues. Preventative medicine expert Tara Scott, MD, says these feel-good fats are the cornerstone of the diet’s amazing success rates. As she explains, “Eating more good fat instead of carbs drives weight loss.” Bonus: The healthy fats in Mediterranean foods are also known to boost memory and help the brain look and perform five years younger.

Legumes: Plant proteins are believed to heal the cellular damage that can cause metabolic disruptions. Affordable beans, such as chickpeas, also contain a type of fiber called resistant starch, which aids in weight loss. In addition, other studies have found that chickpea consumption reduces the risk of a variety of chronic illnesses.

Lean protein: Fish is abundant in this diet. Catches like salmon are proven to reduce cardiovascular disease risk thanks to their rich stores of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to fish, you can reach for chicken, eggs, and Greek yogurt. In fact, Fred Pescatore, MD, author of the Mediterranean-inspired food formula The Hamptons Diet, (Buy from Amazon, $12.69) says this variety is key to getting amino acid–building protein. “That’s how you crank up metabolism and shed dangerous belly fat.”

Fruits and vegetables: From Medjool dates and pomegranates, to eggplants, cabbage, and even red wine, vividly colored foods are packed with powerful plant compounds known to drive slimming and longevity. New research shows that these antioxidants can “feed” good gut bacteria that play a role in reversing weight problems. Dan Buettner, nutrition researcher and author of The Blue Zones Solution, (Buy on Amazon, $8.59) notes, “If you could put this way of eating in a pill, it would be a pharmaceutical blockbuster!”

Spices: Every flavorful bite of Mediterranean cuisine is filled with herbs and spices that boost satisfaction, preventing overeating. What’s more, garlic is even believed to block some fat storage altogether. When stocking your kitchen pantry, start with the four Mediterranean classics: Italian parsley, basil, thyme, and cilantro.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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