- The Mediterranean diet, modeled on traditional cuisines of Italy, Greece, and Spain, has once again earned the No. 1 spot on US News & World Report’s annual “Best Diets” rankings.
- The eating pattern is acclaimed for its evidence-backed health benefits like lowering cholesterol and improving heart health and digestion.
- Meanwhile, the keto diet, which restricts carbs in favor of high-fat foods, has become wildly popular despite its poor ranking, with proponents saying it leads to more energy and weight loss.
- It’s possible to combine the two diets to maximize the benefits of both. Here’s how Mediterranean keto works.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more.
Every year, US News & World Report ranks the best diets for the year ahead. In 2020, for the third year in a row, the Mediterranean diet was named the overall best diet.
Research shows the eating pattern, based on traditional cuisines of Italy, Greece, and Spain, is one of the healthiest in the world, high in nutrient-rich unsaturated oils, fibrous vegetables, and high-quality seafood.
Meanwhile, the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet, or keto for short, ranks 34th out of 35 in the US News list, only better than the Dukan diet. Still, keto has been steadily trending in the popular nutrition world, with advocates saying it can help with weight loss, energy, and overall well-being by transitioning the body into a state of ketosis, where it burns fat for energy instead of sugar.
But turns out it’s possible to combine the two into a “Mediterranean keto” diet high in olive oil, fish, leafy greens, seeds, and nutrient-rich veggies like asparagus and artichokes.
Both diets, as well as the combination of the two, have been around for years, prompting a range of Mediterranean keto cookbooks and recipes. But it’s still picking up steam — a recent video of Mediterranean keto, for one, was viewed more than 150,000 times, prompting a follow-up video with more details on how to adhere to the combined diet.
“It’s been probably the most powerful response I’ve seen on anything keto-related from my audience in the past few years,” its creator Thomas DeLauer, a nutrition writer and consultant who has been keto for nearly a decade, told Insider.
Why? “People get the basics of how to do keto,” DeLauer said, “now they’re looking for ways to elevate it.”
Unlike traditional keto, Mediterranean keto doesn’t include much, if any, red meat
The keto and Mediterranean diets are actually relatively compatible — both are very low in processed foods, refined grains, and added sugars. And neither requires calorie counting.
But the major difference between traditional keto and Mediterranean keto is that the former is stereotypically packed with butter, bacon, and burgers, while the latter is very low in red meat.
The biggest difference between Mediterranean and keto Mediterranean, meanwhile, is that the latter eliminates carb-heavy Mediterranean foods like pasta, pizza, and bread. Still, DeLauer said a traditional Mediterranean diet doesn’t emphasize those foods anyway and instead includes more cheese, artichokes, asparagus, leafy greens like broccoli rabe, and seafood.
Keto Mediterranean seems to have health benefits
Available research on Mediterranean keto found it to be a heart-healthy method of weight loss. One study has also shown it has promising effects on cognitive function, with potential to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and similar forms of cognitive impairment. Researchers believe this is likely due to diet’s beneficial effect on the gut biome, the good bacteria in the digestive system.
It makes sense Mediterranean keto would have health benefits, especially when compared to animal product-packed versions of keto. There’s plenty of evidence that a diet high in saturated fats, which are found in abundance in red meat, cheese, and butter, increase the risks of cancer as well as heart disease and other cardiovascular illnesses.
By contrast, the olives and olive oil in Mediterranean keto are high in healthy unsaturated fats that can reduce the risk of heart disease. The eating pattern also emphasizes fish like sardines and anchovies that are rich in important omega-3 fatty acids, which offer a range of health benefits from lowering blood pressure to supporting brain and joint health.
A Mediterranean style of eating also means enjoying the culture and neither restricting nor overindulging
An added bonus of the Mediterranean side of the diet is an emphasis on deliberate, enjoyable eating habits. Italy and Greece, for one, have a culture of eating in the context of family, DeLauer said, where they take time for meals, instead of snacking at a desk, grabbing fast food, or eating in front of the TV.
“The Mediterranean diet is not only about the food,” registered dietitian Mariana Dineen previously told Insider. Rather, she said, it also advocates for people to slow down, enjoy mealtimes, and connect with the food and the people you savor it with.
It’s also a lifestyle that values moderation, not restriction or over-indulgence, DeLauer said. “One of the things about Mediterrean lifestyle is small and controlled meals, they’re not having giant meals and portions like we have in the states,” he said. “It’s a very healthy pattern of eating.”
As a result, DeLauer said, it feels less restrictive than other types of keto diets because you can enjoy moderate amounts of wine, as well as rich foods like cheese that are typically discouraged or limited on most non-keto diet plans.
Mediterranean keto isn’t for everyone
For some people, though, a lack of structure can be a downfall.
But for most, the main drawback of Mediterranean keto is the same as with any keto diet: You still have to keep track of carbohydrates to stay in ketosis. As such, it might not be for everyone, including people with diabetes or liver and kidney problems.
Long-term, the health effects of the keto diet aren’t well understood, and the low-carb approach can be difficult to stick to for some people.
But you don’t have to go all in right away. DeLauer recommended slowly incorporating more Mediterranean keto foods into your diet over time, focusing on add more veggies, fish, white meat, and olive oil, and save the more pungent ingredients for later.