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What’s Best, a Vegan or Mediterranean Diet?

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Both the vegan and Mediterranean diet are healthful eating patterns that have received a great deal of interest in the nutrition world—a new study explores which diet has better health results.

What diet is best for you—a vegan diet, with its landslide of studies showing health and environmental benefits, or a Mediterranean diet, which has garnered the most research of any diet pattern in the world? There have been hundreds of research studies finding that both Mediterranean and vegan diets, with their emphasis on fruits, vegetables, pulses and whole grains get high marks for their impacts on overall health and longevity, in addition to planetary health. The similarities of the diets include their emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pulses, nuts, and seeds. The main differences between the two diets is that the Mediterranean allows for low amounts of red meat, small amounts of chicken, eggs, and dairy, and fish as the primary animal protein, while a vegan diet excludes all of these animal foods. Besides the fact that both of these diets have been shown to improve health and reduce the risks of certain diseases, researchers have been curious to discover how these diets compare in health outcomes.

Researchers conducted a 36-week randomized crossover trial to compare the health outcomes of a Mediterranean versus a low-fat vegan diet, specifically focusing on the changes in body weight and cardiometabolic parameters. In this study, participants were randomly assigned to either a Mediterranean diet or a low-fat vegan diet over the span of 16 weeks. Once the 16-week period was reached, the participants returned to their normal diets for 4 weeks. They went through a second round of a 16-week process diet change, but this time they tried the opposite diet from the first round. After the two rounds were completed, body weight, body composition, lipid concentrations, fat mass, blood pressure, and insulin levels were measured to identify the outcomes associated with each of the diets. The results of this study showed that in comparison to a Mediterranean diet, the consumption of a low-fat, plant-based diet led to a higher reduction in body weight and fat mass, increase in insulin sensitivity, and improvement in blood lipids. However, the Mediterranean diet that had a more positive impact in decreasing overall blood pressure.

Why were there differences in the results of the study? The scientists observed that while the Mediterranean diet improves factors like insulin sensitivity and blood lipids because of a reduction in saturated fat, a low-fat vegan diet accomplished an even greater reduction in saturated fat, as well as cholesterol. It’s also important to note that the traditional Mediterranean diet is not known so much for weight loss as it is for other health benefits like heart health; in contrast a vegan diet has been consistently linked with weight loss due to factors such as very high fiber intake. On the other hand, the blood pressure-lowering effects of monounsaturated fats in the Med diet may be more powerful than the effects of a low-fat vegan diet, which has lower amounts of these fats. While we need more research to compare the effects of these two diets, one thing seems sure: Both the Mediterranean and vegan diets offer impressive health benefits.

Read more about this study at The Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2020.

Learn more about the Mediterranean and vegan diets here:

How to Eat a Healthy, Plant-Based Mediterranean Diet
The Vegetarian Diet and Mediterranean Diet are Both Heart Healthy
Bringing the Mediterranean Diet to Life

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