What Is the Green Mediterranean Diet? (2023)

Heart Disease

Here’s everything you need to know about this updated heart-smart diet, including if it’s better than the original.

by Marygrace Taylor Health Writer

What Is the Green Mediterranean Diet? (1)

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Medical Reviewer

Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

When it comes to your heart, few eating patterns have been shown to get all those healthy ticker markers—blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides—in line. The Mediterranean diet is one of them.

Based on the traditional diets of people living in the regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, it has a strong emphasis on plant foods like fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, whole grains, and beans, which are eaten daily. Seafood, eggs, dairy, or poultry are enjoyed a few times a week, while red meat, sweets, or processed food are saved for special occasions. Many followers of the Mediterranean diet also enjoy red wine in moderation.

Numerous studies have shown the Mediterranean diet to be effective at controlling blood pressure and cholesterol and improving heart health. Now, an updated version, dubbed the Green Mediterranean diet, could work even better. Recent research published in the journal Heart found that participants who followed a Green Mediterranean diet for six months lowered their LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, blood pressure, and markers of inflammation even more than those who followed a traditional Mediterranean diet.

Sound good? Read on.

Building on the Mediterranean's Diet Success

The traditional Mediterranean diet emphasizes plants, which offer protection against damaging inflammation and oxidative stress that can up the risk for chronic diseases over time, according to research published in the Journal of Gerontology. Filling your plate with mostly plants also limits the space for less-healthy foods like red meat or processed carbs, explains Ruby Jain Shah, M.D., an internist and obesity specialist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano in Planto, TX. The idea of the Green Mediterranean Diet builds and expands on this.

Created (and named) by researchers specifically for the November 2020 Heart study, the Green Mediterranean diet is essentially a super plant-charged version of the traditional eating plan. Subjects who followed the Green Mediterranean diet ate very few simple carbs (such as pasta and white breads) and more plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.) and avoided red meat completely (as opposed to eating it sparingly), replacing it with poultry or fish. They also added 3 to 4 cups of green tea and a quarter cup of walnuts to their diet each day.

Oh, and one other thing: In the study, Green Mediterranean diet followers also consumed a daily shake made with duckweed, a protein-rich aquatic plant, which was taken as a partial substitute for animal protein.

The result: After six months, Green Mediterranean followers’ LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) was about 4% lower than those who followed a standard Mediterranean diet. They also experienced decreases in diastolic blood pressure, insulin resistance, and inflammation markers. Still, it’s important to point out that both groups experienced noted heart health benefits, along with similar amounts of weight loss.

Is the Green Med Diet Worth It?

Is the Green Med Diet Worth It?

Despite such research, not all experts are convinced the Green Med diet is critical for heart health. If you want to add the green extras to your diet, go ahead—but they’re not necessary, says Robert Greenfield, M.D., double board-certified cardiologist and lipidologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA.

“They might be healthy additions, but one can reap the benefits of the Mediterranean diet without the green version,” says Jennifer McDaniel, R.D.N., co-author of Prevention Mediterranean Table based in St. Louis, MO. “The most important piece is building a diet consistently rich in plants, swapping out unhealthy fats for healthy ones [like trading butter for olive oil], enjoying more seafood, and limiting the added sugars and red meat.” Having walnuts, green tea, and duckweed shakes every day would just be “the cherry on top,” McDaniel adds. (That is, if you can manage to find duckweed at your local supermarket.)

Dr. Shah agrees. It’s more important to focus on the basics of a healthy Mediterranean diet rather than focus on eating specific superfoods, she notes.

How to Go More Mediterranean

How to Go More Mediterranean

Mediterranean-izing your eating doesn’t have to involve buying special foods or drinks a la the Green plan. “This diet celebrates a wide variety of foods as opposed to a black and white list that tells you to eat this, not that,” says McDaniel.

Best of all, there’s a good chance that you follow some principles of the Mediterranean diet already. “And just like any good habit builder, we must start small and build upon what we’re already doing well,” McDaniel says. Here are some easy, tasty ways to do that:

  • Make fruits and veggies the stars of most meals. McDaniel likes the 1, 2, 3 method. Aim to have one serving of plants with breakfast (like spinach with scrambled eggs), two servings at lunch (like avocado on your turkey sandwich and a side of cherries), and three servings at dinner (like a side salad, cauliflower-mashed potatoes, and fruit for dessert).

  • Treat meat like a condiment. You don’t have to take red meat off the table. Just enjoy it in smaller quantities less often. Instead of making taco filling with just beef, cut the beef in half and add in a can of black beans, McDaniel suggests.

  • Go for more whole grains. Enjoy whole grain pasta or bread instead of white. Cook up a pot of brown rice or quinoa to add to salads throughout the week. When baking, experiment with trading some of the white flour for whole wheat.

  • Swap your fats. Cook with olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oil, top your salad with nuts instead of bacon crumbles, or have grilled salmon instead of burgers, McDaniel recommends.

  • Try fruit for dessert. Finish off your meal with sweet seasonal produce, like fresh berries with a small dollop of whipped cream or baked apples with cinnamon.

  • Enjoy a glass of red wine, if you’d like. It can be healthier than other alcohol choices because it contains beneficial antioxidant compounds. But if you don’t drink, “you absolutely should not start drinking red wine just to be healthier,” Dr. Shah says. “Better sources of polyphenols are fruits and vegetables.”

Bottom line: The Green Mediterranean diet appears to have a slight edge on the traditional version in terms of heart health, but the best diet is the one you can stick with in the long-term. Consider portion size, max out on veggies while scaling back on steak, and you’ll be well on your way to eating for a healthier heart.

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Marygrace Taylor

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