Each year, a panel of prestigious experts convenes to assess popular eating plans and pick the best one. A Mediterranean diet is named winner time and again. It’s no wonder: Studies prove this way of eating protects against virtually every age-related disease. Research also shows it can trigger 323 percent more weight loss than other healthy diets. How? Well, both Italian-style and traditional Mediterranean diet are built on unprocessed food. That means the body must burn thousands of extra calories a week to digest it all.
On top of that, staples include an abundance of colorful produce plus moderate amounts of whole grains, natural fat, seafood, and dairy — all of which are loaded with nutrients shown to help melt spare pounds and dramatically improve well-being. And since you skip sugar and junk food, “you replace foods that drive obesity and disease with foods that fight them,” notes Mediterranean Prescription author Angelo Acquista, MD.
As for the reason women over 50 get such a boost from Italian-style Mediterranean eating, Dr. Lombardo’s analysis pinpointed two standout ingredients.
How Olive Oil Boosts Weight Loss
Dr. Lombardo notes that Italian-style Mediterranean dieters get nearly 20 percent of their calories from olive oil. The advantage: Studies not only show the oil’s compounds slash the risk of heart disease, they also lower blood sugar, speed metabolism, and more.
Plus, new findings suggest antioxidants in olive oil “feed” special bacteria in our digestive tract that can reverse age-related weight gain. “Olive oil is special,” confirms Brown University’s Mary Flynn, RD, PhD. In her research, women in their 60s and 70s who went on a Mediterranean-style diet with at least three tablespoons of olive oil daily were able to eat more total calories and still lose more weight than other dieters.
How Plant-Based Proteins Boost Weight Loss
On Italy’s Mediterranean coast, low-cost beans and peas actually beat fish as the main protein. Not only does that save money, it fights middle-age spread: Exciting new research hints that plant protein heals damage to little furnaces inside our cells, “offsetting age-related metabolic disturbances,” says study head Hana Kahleova, MD of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
And beans’ power doesn’t end there. Experts note they also contain a special type of “resistant” starch that is proven to trigger 20 percent faster fat burning while slashing levels of belly-fattening insulin by 73 percent.
But why did Dr. Lombardo’s study find plant protein helped women maintain metabolism-boosting muscle? For now, it’s a slimming, energizing mystery! One thing is for sure: Eat the Italian-Mediterranean way, “and you don’t need a strict diet to achieve radical changes,” says Dr. Lombardo. “My patients are always amazed.”
What kind of weight loss can you expect from an Italian-Mediterranean diet?
When Mindy Morrow turned 50, she was blindsided by rapid weight gain. “I also had swollen feet, sore joints, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and constant sleepiness,” recalls the Kansas mom. “My mom, Carol, was 350 pounds and wheelchair-bound because of her weight. I worried I was on that path.”
So when her doctor suggested a Mediterranean diet, Mindy began filling up on salmon, veggies, and olive oil; she also got plenty of protein from plant sources like whole grains, nuts, and beans. “It was so satisfying. I started to feel hope.” Pounds came off steadily — 81 in all. She also got off blood pressure meds she’d taken for decades. The best part: “My mom asked for help getting healthy, and it was one of the happiest days of my life. She was missing out on so much because of her struggle to get around,” says Mindy, who began by suggesting simple Mediterranean meal ideas like lentil soup and hummus on healthy bread.
“I had my doubts,” admits Carol, 75. “But then I started losing weight!” A year later, Carol was down 100 pounds. “Now I walk without pain and I’m no longer short of breath. I tell everyone that it’s never too late to change for the better!”
What do meals on an Italian-Mediterranean diet look like?
To blast over-50 fat the Italian-Mediterranean way, incorporate one cup of beans or peas and two to three tablespoons of olive oil daily into meals packed with veggies, herbs, spices, and fruit. Add moderate amounts of seafood, poultry, nuts, whole grains, and wine. Limit meat, sweets, and processed food. Always get your doctor’s okay to try a new plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.