If you’re like the millions of people who are considering a new eating style for the new year, chances are the ketogenic (keto for short) diet has piqued your interest—thanks to the countless social media influencers who continuously display their shrinking frames on Instagram.
Here, we weigh the pros and cons of this trending plan compared to the Mediterranean diet by breaking down the details of each diet and offering the latest research in order to determine which lifestyle is optimal for weight loss, as well as your overall health.
The high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein ketogenic diet typically has a macronutrient distribution pattern of 75% calories from fat, 15%–20% of calories from protein, and 5%–10% of calories from carbohydrates. The premise is that by restricting carbs to minimal levels, your metabolism will shift into ketosis, whereby body fat is burned for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
To shift into ketosis, your meals and snacks are focused on fats like oils, avocado, butter, and bacon—and carbs are limited to a minimal amount equal to what you’d get in an apple or two per day. You can enjoy a moderate amount of protein—about 3 ounces at three meals per day—like beef, pork, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Because fat is almost unlimited, you can enjoy fat-rich choices like butter, bacon, ribs, greasy burgers, and oily fish.
On the other hand, the traditional Mediterranean diet calls for about 50%–60% of daily calories from carbohydrates, 25%–35% of calories from fat (with saturated fat kept to minimal levels), and the remainder from protein.
To follow a Mediterranean-style eating plan, you’ll want to stick with these core principles:
- Fruits and vegetables: Strive to eat at least five servings of veggies and two servings of fruit every day
- Whole grains: Enjoy at least three servings per day
- Beans: Make meat-free meals with beans and legumes several times a week
- Nuts: Enjoy a handful as a snack or as part of a meal every day.
- Extra virgin olive oil: Use as your primary fat in place of butter or spreads
- Red meat and dairy products: Eat in moderation.
- Red wine: Enjoy a glass with dinner (optional).
The Mediterranean diet is supported by nearly 6,000 peer-reviewed published studies that document its role in reducing risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, dementia, and more. A recent report found that among 41 different diets, the Mediterranean diet earned the top spot for the best diet for healthy eating, plant-based eating, and diabetes—and it was ranked the easiest diet to follow. In the same report, the keto diet tied for 38th place.
Studies show that those who adhere to a traditional Mediterranean-style eating pattern are likely to live longer, healthier lives. The eating style—which is most often associated with Spain, Italy, and Greece—is thought to be so healthy that it is often considered the gold standard for healthy eating among nutrition professionals and researchers.
Alternatively, the ketogenic diet was a therapeutic diet developed in the 1930s as an additional way to help manage childhood epileptic seizures. In the past few years, keto has become a popular way to lose lots of weight fast and quickly became the trendiest way to diet among many Hollywood A-listers.
Problem is, long-term adherence to such a low-carb lifestyle is almost impossible, and most keto devotees can only stick to it by having scheduled “off” or “cheat” days every week or so. Because the keto diet limits breads, cereals, grains, fruit, and starchy veggies, it’s easy to develop nutritional deficiencies. And since it’s high in saturated fat, it may increase risk for heart disease.
Another difference: The Mediterranean diet is a sustainable, plant-based eating plan where tasty meals are made with local, in-season produce picks. Not only is eating like a Greek more planet-friendly, it’s easy to stick to for life because it’s so delicious and easy to follow. (That’s a win-win for weight loss maintenance.)
The ketogenic diet is more resource-intensive because it calls for lots of animal-based foods and processed fats, like oils and nut butters, in order to meet daily calorie needs. Plus, are you able to live the rest of your life without eating potatoes, bread, pasta, rolls, or rice? Probably not.
If you’re searching for a healthy way to lose weight, reduce your risk for chronic diseases, and improve the health of the planet, veto keto and enjoy the flavor and flexibility of the Mediterranean diet.
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