Call it an "aha!" moment that’s happening among scientists, doctors and dieters all around the world. “For me, it started with the question ‘How do I make the world’s healthiest diet — the Mediterranean Diet—work faster?’” reveals Steve Parker, M.D., an internist at two Arizona hospitals. “My patients are generally in crisis and need to reach a healthy weight as quickly as possible. So I decided to try putting a Mediterranean spin on what has proven to be hands-down the quickest way to lose weight.” And that is how “Mediterranean Atkins” was born in Scottsdale. At about the same time in Spain, a university team hit on a similar idea and began to study the concept.
As Dr. Parker’s first dieters were reporting rapid results — and the doc himself shed a quick 15 pounds — the Spanish team noted that Mediterranean Atkins dieters could eat unlimited calories, enjoy red wine daily and still drop an average of 30 pounds in 12 weeks. These dieters also experienced dramatic improvements in blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and more. “The diet has been quietly picking up steam ever since,” smiles Dr. Parker. In April, an Italian team released evidence that Mediterranean Atkins dieters lose about 44 percent more ab fat than other dieters — plus, their blood sugar improves by 77 percent and many reverse diabetes. Wow!
The Mediterranean Atkins Diet
When we asked Atkins headquarters about the trend, they quickly sent a list of dieters who’d been inspired to incorporate lots of low-carb Mediterranean staples — salmon, olive oil, spinach, walnuts, feta and more—into their Atkins menus. “I’ve never lost weight so easily before,” raves Texas reader Rebecca Niemeyer, 36. “I’m down 80 pounds — and it feels like the perfect diet,” Adds 126-pounds slimmer Pennsylvania reader Tammie Grove, 39: “It’s so much delicious food, it’s hard to believe you’re getting lean and healthy so fast.”
Though there are lots of variations on a Mediterranean Atkins diet, they generally have you limit carbs to about 30 grams per day while avoiding highly processed food and emphasizing nutrient-packed Mediterranean favorites — especially seafood, leafy greens, fresh herbs, nuts, olive oil and red wine. What about options like bacon, butter and low-carb candy? Include them in moderation if you wish. “Atkins is a good diet for weight loss because when you keep carb intake low enough, it inhibits new fat from forming and literally forces your body to burn stored fat for fuel. That’s true even if you’re making less nutritious low-carb choices,” says Dr. Parker. “That said, it’s been my experience that the more nutrient-dense choices you make, the better off you’ll be. Reduce carbs and eat Mediterranean style foods, and you get a flood of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that give you a huge edge.” For that reason, Dr. Parker and many other experts consider Mediterranean Atkins the ultimate low-carb diet for longevity.
Why it works so well
As Dr. Parker mentioned, any low carb diet will prompt the body to burn stored fat when it would ordinarily use carbs as fuel. Factor in Mediterranean superfoods, and you’re triggering even more slimming reactions. For example, olive oil has been proven to affect cells and hormones in ways that cause abdominal fat to be torched up to 350 percent faster. And then there are antioxidants. Olive oil is loaded with them, and so are fresh veggies, herbs, nuts and wine. The microscopic plant nutrients synergize with each other, often in slimming ways; one experiment even found that a high-antioxidant intake ups weight loss by 280 percent!
One more: Dr. Parker, author of The Advanced Mediterranean Diet, believes plenty of fish is key. Why? The mix of high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids is an intense hunger killer; fish has also been shown to boost hormones that speed metabolism. No wonder three servings of fish a week has been linked to 27 percent greater flab loss, right?
"The Mediterranean Diet and the Atkins Diet is the perfect marriage,” says Atkins’ senior nutritionist Colette Heimowitz, M.S., M.Sc. “Dieters who try it will experience maximized fat burning and strong hunger control. They can also expect the health benefits associated with monounsaturated fats like olive oil.” Because the approach works primarily by cutting carbs, calories are not a big deal and portions can be large. Oh, and “no other diet has food that tastes better!” Woman’s World readers who tested Mediterranean Atkins menus agree. Says Chicago guidance counselor Kristen Perteet, 39: “I was eating gourmet food, and I still lost eight pounds in a week!” Her mom Julie Perteet, was just as thrilled. “It felt like I was cheating,” she says. “And yet at age 62, I lost faster than ever before."
Your Mediterranean Atkins menus
Our nutrition team worked with top Mediterranean Atkins experts to create these easy menus for you to try. While using this approach, you’ll only need to measure portions of carb-containing foods (including veggies, avocado, nuts, dairy and wine). Minimally processed zero-carb foods are unlimited—but for best results, aim to keep the emphasis on Mediterranean-style options like salmon, tuna and olive oil. Drink plenty of water during the day, and jazz up your meals with antioxidant-rich oregano, basil, thyme and lemon juice. As always, get a doctor’s okay to try any new plan.
Breakfast (choose one daily)
- Large omelet with 1 cup spinach and 1 oz. feta prepared with olive oil
- Unlimited lean steak
- ½ small avocado and ½ plum tomato, sliced and drizzled with no-sugar-added olive oil vinaigrette
- Unlimited smoked salmon and 2 Tbs. cream cheese on ½ cup cucumber slices
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Lunch (choose one daily)
- Unlimited rotisserie chicken
- 2 cups green vegetables and herbs to taste sautéed in olive oil
- Unlimited tuna, 2 cups romaine, ½ cup each cucumber and celery, 1 Tbs. each chopped walnuts and diced onion, fresh herbs, no-sugar-added olive oil vinaigrette
- Unlimited lean ground turkey cooked with Mediterranean seasoning mix; serve with 2 oz. crumbled feta and ½ diced plum tomato rolled in large lettuce leaves
Dinner (choose one daily)
- Large burger topped with 1 oz. feta or goat cheese
- 1 cup mushrooms and ⅓ cup onions sautéed in olive oil
- Unlimited salmon, trout or any fish prepared with olive oil and herbs
- ⅔ cup each sliced red and green peppers and zucchini sautéed in 1 Tbs. olive oil
- Unlimited lean pork loin or baked chicken, spice rub
- 1 cup sautéed green beans with 1 Tbs. chopped walnuts and olive oil
- 1 small tomato sliced with olive oil and herbs
Snack (choose one daily)
- 2 oz. feta or any cheese
- 15 olives
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.