Can the Mediterranean diet be the answer to midlife weight gain and the dreaded midlife spread (AKA tummy fat)? It is for sure a strong contender and a very delicious one.

Mediterranean diet in menopause

The Mediterranean diet or way of eating has been touted as the healthiest diet in the world. Is it true or not? A lot of scientists think so, but a lot of them have also ignored some important truths about this way of eating. Is the Mediterranean diet a good diet for you? Let’s find out.

One thing is for sure, the Mediterranean diet is delicious and includes a great variety of foods in all food groups.

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What is the Mediterranean Diet?

It is not a diet. By Mediterranean diet we are referring in reality to the main principles that the people around the Mediterranean eat.

The Mediterranean is a diverse region that extents around the Mediterranean Sea from Portugal going around including Israel and Egypt all the way to the norther edge of Africa. The main study on the Mediterranean diet was focused on Italy.

However all these countries and peoples eat in a similar way: a lot of seasonal vegetables, fish, not too much meat, olive oil, some wine and natural sweets.

Beyond diet, people in these areas used to walk a lot, have good friends and take life easy. Currently this way of life has changed in the Mediterranean and the diet and lifestyle are starting to look more like ours. In this article when we talk about the Mediterranean diet we are talking about the traditional diet, not about current practices.

What do they eat in the Mediterranean?

If I tell you in Italy, it is Italian food. Then you may think, “Oh, I also love pizza” and I do too. They eat pizza or flat breads often but it is part of the meal. The rest of the meal will include a lot of vegetables and some animal protein.

In short they eat a wholesome diet including tons of veggies, fish, fats, whole grains, nuts and seeds, cheeses, wine, fruits, a little bit of meat and butter. They used to eat local, seasonal foods. They don’t call it healthy, they called it just regular food.

Mediterranean diet

I find that there is an aspect that is rarely discussed, maybe because it can be obvious, but it is so important that I want to spell it out: In the past people in the Mediterranean (and everywhere else) used to cook at home from scratch.

I find that there is an aspect that is rarely discussed, maybe because it can be obvious, but it is so important that I want to spell it out: In the past people in the Mediterranean (and everywhere else) used to cook at home from scratch.

Their vegetables are not carrots and peas or bad looking broccoli, neither do they eat a ton of salads. The vegetables are cooked in many ways, and because they are so fresh and flavorful, they don’t need a lot of additives to taste great.

The wine

Oh yes, they drink wine. I will tell you something, women don’t drink as much, in fact some women don’t drink at all or just dessert wines once in a while. Wines are nothing special in most of the Mediterranean, they are everywhere. But yes, wine is part of the mixture.

Cheeses and milk

They don’t believe that milk is evil. They eat cheeses and drink milk. However, they didn’t get the propaganda of 5 servings of milk a day, they only have a couple of servings and probably mostly cheese. Traditionally their milk was of the highest quality, naturally organic, pasture raised, 100% grass fed from animals that were treated almost like pets.

Fish and meats

Fish is a common food in this region; after all they are on the Mediterranean Sea. Meat is also eaten, but in the past they didn’t eat much. They eat the whole animal, including internal organs and they eat seafood.

Gluten

They eat a lot of gluten. They eat a lot of grains and wheat. They eat grains, breads and pastas. But if we compare this to our bread consumption, the calories from bread type foods is lower than ours and of higher quality.

Fats

Lots of fats. Mainly olive oil and some butter and lard. The original study that highlighted the Mediterranean diet as very healthy compared their consumption of fats to Americans.

That study found that they were eating less saturated fat than Americans and they had a lower incidence of heart attacks. The study concluded that high saturated fat consumption was the cause of heart attacks. This study ignored other aspects of their diet such as low level of sugar consumption, a lot of walking and manual labor and lower stress levels. That study was the one that demonized saturated fats and promoted high carbohydrate consumption.

Sugar

They eat a lot less than us. They don’t eat:

  • Sugary cereals in the morning (this is an American invention)
  • Soups, sauces and salad dressings with sugar for lunch
  • A ton of calories from desserts
  • They don’t eat a lot of sweets such as chocolate and candies often
  • They don’t drink a lot of sugary drinks such as sodas and juices


Processed foods

Traditionally there were no processed foods. They purchased some foods such as cured meats, pickles, pastas, oils etc. but rarely sauces or prepared foods.

What they don’t eat?

They don’t have restrictions, they don’t eliminate food groups, they don’t demonize any foods. They don’t try to eat low fat or low carb or low calories, they don’t diet. They also don’t consume a lot of supplements. They don’t have super foods or fad diets.

They take the sun, but not to get tanned, they use hats and common sense to avoid it. They take the sun while out of the house. I mention this, because the sun is a source of vitamin D.

Coffee

They drink coffee in moderation. The Venti size coffees (or very large) never were seen in the region until Starbucks arrived. Usually they drink coffee with milk in the morning and a cup of black coffee (no sugar) in the afternoon.

The cup size is small and in many places it is mostly espresso type coffee (no cream and mostly without sugar). The amount of sugar varies but it is seldom super sweet (looking at you Starbuck’s lattes).

No fast food

Normally people in the Mediterranean take their time to cook and to eat. Everything is slow. Eating while watching TV or worse while driving is unheard off. In fairs and now while out of the house, people have started to buy snacks and eat them while walking.

Things are changing

When we talk about the Mediterranean diet we are talking of the diet of the past. The study on the Mediterranean diet was done right after the Second World War. The current Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, as I said before, is starting to look more like ours. So we want to copy the previous diet and life not the current one.

Is it healthy?

Yes, the traditional Mediterranean diet has everything that we think in actuality to be healthy. It is a very balanced diet that includes all food groups in moderation and to that we have to add a lot of walking, laughing and communicating. Traditionally there was also respect for elders; being older didn’t mean being sick and useless.

Is it a good diet in midlife?

Most of the principles of the Mediterranean diet are healthful, delicious and easy to incorporate in our lives.

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Something to keep in mind is that epigenetics is now pinpointing to the importance of our genetic makeup in nutrition. An example of this is:


People from countries like France and Germany traditionally have eaten a lot of saturated fats and they “might” process that type of fats better than someone from Mediterranean ancestry.

Epigenetics and the relation to nutrition is still being studied so we don’t have anything conclusive yet.

How to follow the Mediterranean diet at home?

Remember that is not only a matter of a diet, it is a lifestyle. It matters how you eat, slow, relax, calm and hopefully in good company.

  • The main principle of the Mediterranean diet is variety. Eat different foods, specially veggies and whole grains and seeds.
  • Low consumption of high quality red meats
  • Olive oil or other cold pressed oils
  • Natural foods, preferably local
  • Eat vegetables in season and lots of them. Add flavor
  • Eat delicious food. Learn Mediterranean recipes, they can be Italian, Greek, Spaniard, Middle Eastern, Portuguese etc. In the Mediterranean food is truly to enjoy it.
  • Eat slowly, preferably at the table, without stress
  • Low sugar. Don’t drink your calories and avoid added sugar. In the Mediterranean a lot of people tend to eat a little bit of sweet bread every day, but the portion is small and it does not have trans fats. They also have a small piece of seasonal fruit after a meal.
  • Don’t get full with bread and pasta and eat nutrient dense foods
  • Drink water instead of other drinks
  • Drink herbal teas


Some myths of the Mediterranean diet

  • One of the main myths is that it is low fat. It is lower saturated fat, but they use a lot of oil.
  • Olive and canola oil. Not true, they used only cold pressed oils, mainly olive. You may also use other oils if they are cold extracted. Canola oil is not cold extracted.
  • They don’t eat butter. Yes they do, not in high amounts because it is expensive there, but they use it. It is natural and from healthy animals. Here we have to look for pasture raised, grass fed, organic butter.
  • Wine. If you don’t drink don’t start because it is healthy, this is debatable. If you drink choose red wine and in moderation. For women max one glass a day, for men max 2 glasses a day (I recommend only one).
  • Low fat milk. The Mayo clinic, in their article about the Mediterranean diet, recommends low fat milk. The Mediterranean people don’t drink anything low fat. They drink full fat or 2% (they take some of the fat to make cream).


Can you lose weight with the Mediterranean diet?

Yes, but how much depends on how much you eat and where you are at. If you eat in moderation and you are currently eating a standard American diet you will probably lose weight and gain energy. If you have a lot of weight to lose, you will lose weight. If you are skinny and already eating “healthy,” you may not lose more weight, because your body is already in harmony.

Mediterranean diet and hot flashes

The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle can be very good to manage hot flashes (or flushes) and other peri-menopausal symptoms. A lot of the perimenopause and menopausal symptoms are aggravated or caused by stress, excessive sugar, lack of some nutrients (this affect the hormones) and some bad foods. A Mediterranean lifestyle can address some of those causes.

In Italy and other places in the Mediterranean women report less dryness and less hot flashes (or flushes) than in the USA.

After menopause the Mediterranean diet can be very healthy because it includes a lot of nutrients that will strengthen your organs and bones.

This diet has the very important bonus that it eliminates a lot of processed foods and excess sugar in other words toxins. With this we are eliminating health risks.

You may also like to read: IF for hormonal weight lose

Picture by Casey Lee on Unsplash

20 Comments on Mediterranean diet for perimenopausal weight loss

  1. I absolutely adore the Mediterranean Diet. Maybe because for me it still resonates as “Holiday”. As a young Swiss girl, France, Spain, Italie, Portugal were all holiday destinations.

    Your description of the diet is absolutely perfect. This diet is all about REAL FOOD of high quality, mostly sourced from local markets and produced locally on a small scale.

    Nowadays I eat a Mediterranean inspired diet, yet more on the vegan side.

    Thank you for a post full of Mediterranean sun and tastes.

    • Thanks for such a lovely comment. I can imagine how wonderful it was to visit all those countries. Yes it is a very good diet and perfect to adapt it to the vegetarian lifestyle, I also do the same.

  2. This sounds really good. A friend of mine says to eat nature’s food in nature’s package. So no processed food in cans, boxes. etc. I’d be interested in more info about the relationship between epigenetics and nutrition. Thanks for all the great info.

    • Thanks for visiting. Your friend said it very nicely. Epigenetics is very exciting, I will be sharing more in future articles.

  3. What a great read! We have been eating a plant based diet for just over a year, so fish and meat are out for us, but I truly enjoy eating fresh, local seasonal produce, nuts, seeds and whole grains, as well as grass fed diary. The one thing I am having trouble kicking to the curb is sugar 🙁 I have no doubt that when I finally slay that habit I will be at my healthiest ever, and I am about to turn 54!

  4. I love eating this way as I grew up eating more fish and pasta, and I have found as I get older and am through menopause that I feel better eating the Mediterranean way. Thank you for the clarification on many things you’ve mentioned!

    Happy summer to you,
    Barb 🙂

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