The New Non-Diet Mediterranean Diet


Let’s be honest, diets don’t work.

Sure, at first, you’re all gung-ho to drop some weight. So you log on to Amazon and buy the latest bestselling diet book. You are psyched. When it shows up at your door, you feverishly rip open the packaging and devour the entire book in one sitting.

And then, you’re off to the supermarket. Loading up on whatever miracle foods your new Diet Bible has told you to buy.

You bring all that stuff home and boom!…you’re dieting. And for the next two weeks, you are a spartan.

But eventually you get bored of following the rules. So, you cheat…a little….then a little more…And the next thing you know, you’ve re-gained all of the weight you just lost, plus an extra 5 pounds just to be ironic.

So yeah, diets don’t work. For long lasting weight loss, you have to think long term. You have to think lifestyle.

And for most people, that is easier said than done. Until now

A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System has been successful in helping women double their fruit and vegetable intake as well as dramatically increasing their consumption of “good” fats.

The six-month study of 69 women divided the participants into two groups.

greensIn one group, registered dietitians used an “exchange list” of foods that are common in a Mediterranean diet to make a plan for each participant.

The new plan maintained the caloric and total fat intakes that the participants consumed at the beginning of the study.

The list included suggested servings, or exchanges, of several categories of foods—such as dark green vegetables, such as spinach, or high-monounsaturated fats, such olive oil.

The dietitians also provided counseling on the telephone to help the participants to make the dietary changes, as well as in-person sessions at the start of the study and three months later.

Women in the comparison group continued their usual diet and did not receive any dietary counseling, though they were offered one free dietary counseling session after they completed their part in the study. If their intake of any vitamin or mineral was less than two-thirds of the recommended levels, they were given a list of foods that are rich in that nutrient. They also were given the National Cancer Institute’s “Action Guide to Healthy Eating.”

Researchers found that the group that followed the exchange-list plan reached the goals of the Mediterranean diet within three months, and maintained the change for the six-month duration of the study.

But the comparison group that did not use the exchange list or receive dietary counseling made few dietary changes.

“That tells us that the exchange list was helpful in assisting women to make major changes in their diet, without changes in their caloric or total fat intake,” says lead author Zora Djuric, Ph.D.




So Why did the Researchers Choose the Mediterranean Diet?

Mediterranean diets have been associated with health benefits such as lower risks for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Recent studies also have suggested that such a diet can increase longevity, but this data is from observational studies of Europeans who followed a traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern.

The new research is the first time a method has been devised to achieve the major Mediterranean nutrient intakes using American foods, and American women were able to follow this diet.

Eating patterns in Greece and other Mediterranean countries traditionally have been high in monounsaturated fats, compared with the saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats that are more common in the United States. The Mediterranean diet is also rich in fruits and vegetables.

In this new study, specific suggestions in the exchange list included:

  • 8-10 servings (or exchanges) each day of high monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), such as olive or hazelnut oil, avocado and macadamia nuts
  • Limits on fats that are low in MUFA, such as corn oil, margarine, tahini, pine nuts and sesame seeds.
  • One or more servings a day of dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, peas and spinach
  • At least one exchange per day of garlic, onions and leeks
  • One tablespoon or more per day of green herbs, such as basil, cilantro, peppermint and sage
  • One or more servings a day of red vegetables, such as tomatoes, tomato sauce and salsa
  • One or more servings a day of yellow or orange vegetables, such as carrots, red bell peppers and pumpkin
  • One or more servings a day of other vegetables, such as artichokes, cucumber, green beans and sugar snap peas
  • One or more servings a day of vitamin C fruits, such as oranges, mangoes and strawberries
  • One or more servings a day of other fruits, such as apples, bananas and grapes


It’s almost January 2009. Most of you will be making New Year’s resolutions. Most of those peoples will resolve to finally lose those 20 extra pounds that are quickly turning into 40 pounds.

Please….I am begging you. Don’t go out and buy another diet book.

Go online, search my blog, whatever…but look for all of the info you can find on Mediterranean or Paleo or Caveman Diets (I really hate that word diet)

  • And take a really hard look at your lifestyle.
  • Think about the foods you like to eat.

And start (slowly) removing some of the junkiest junk foods in your diet and replace them with healthier options…but be critical. Are these foods that you could see yourself eating 20 years from now. If not, find something else.

Personally, I am not a big squash lover. Even though I know there is lots of good stuff in squash, I don’t like squash. So, I don’t eat it. But, instead of chowing down on pizza night after night, I find healthier options that I like. And then I start playing in the kitchen. And I learn how to make those “sorta like” healthy foods taste a heck of a lot better.

You can do this people.

Like this article???

If you like this article, don’t forget to subscribe to @healthhabits. When you subscribe, my friends at MailChimp will make sure to send you an email every time I post something new here at the blog.

As well, you also get access to the series of Supplement Reports that I am publishing this year.

button subscribe




  • Eurekalert
  • Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Dec. 2008, Vol. 108 Number 12, “Design of a Mediterranean Exchange List Diet Implemented by Telephone Counseling.”


  1. Fantastic post. I hate the word “diet,” too, and you’ve done a great job on this post.

    It’s all about a healthy lifestyle…………………:)

  2. The sad thing is a ton of people will still go out and buy those diet books. Great post and like you said, it has to be about a healthy lifestyle.

  3. Even if diets don’t work for the majority of dieters, they work for some. Let’s say one in 10.

    [Success rate may be higher, depending on how you define success:

    It’s like quitting cigarettes. Most successful quitters try five to seven times before they succeed. That’s just the way it is. If they didn’t try, they for sure wouldn’t be able to quit.

    What I hate to see is someone wasting their time with diets that are doomed from the git-go, like the Cabbage Soup Diet. Or programs that convince you that long-term success is not at all related to regular physical activity.


  4. DR – Thanks for the recommendations on exactly how to add more fruits and veggies in an American. It doesn’t seem so difficult when you break it down into single servings.

  5. Great post as usual — and I’m also noticing your posts seem to be making me laugh more and more (“gaining back an extra 5 pounds just to be ironic”).

    As for squash, NOT trying to force it on you, but I remember reading an interesting-sounding NYTimes recipe that I’ve tried and liked; it’s here:

    But like you said — if you don’t like it, you don’t necessarily need to force yourself to eat it!

  6. Your blog has been a big help over the last year for me. In 2008, like many previous years, I resolved to loose the weight. I’m not all the way there, but I also have lost more than 5 lbs, and even better, not gained it back. Your blog has helped to remind me that change is slow, but steady and that it’s about changing the way that I look at food, activity and how they work in my life. I’m looking forward to reading your blog for the next year for reminders that the little pills, shakes etc… are not the way, for exercise tips, nutrition and all round great info.

  7. It doesn’t say what health benefits the group had at the end of the study compared to the control group. Were there any changes in weight?

  8. Dr. Dan,

    The study was designed to look at dietary compliance.

    Were the women able to fit their new Mediterranean diet rules successfully into their lives?

    Any evidence of health benefits was outside the scope of their research. But, I think we both have seen research backing up the health benefits of the med diet.

  9. most of all, is to keep track on your intake, diet or whatever it is called is just a methode, it all come back to us how strong you will stay healthy..

  10. […] to Spanish researchers, a traditional Mediterranean diet, combined with virgin olive oil was able to down-regulate the expression of atherosclerosis-related […]

  11. Hi! I really enjoy reading you blog, thank you for all your tips and concern.

    I recently decided to get back on track with my health and did a detox, started a crossfit workout routine and changed my diet.

    Little did I know that my diet closely resembles the Mediterranean diet! Most of my fruits come in the form of juicing in the mornings (with all the pulp), does that still count as a helping?

Comments are closed.