The Mediterranean diet, already much-lauded by nutritionists and health experts for its benefits in reducing risks of heart disease and high cholesterol, has now been found to have a significant effect on how the body stores fat, including in the the liver and the heart.
A new Israeli study conducted by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), in collaboration with the Dimona Nuclear Research Center and Soroka University Medical Center in Israel, Harvard University and Leipzig University in Germany, has found that the diet — rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts and legumes — can help reduce the amount of fat deposits in the body, even when weight loss has leveled off.
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The study, dubbed “Central MRI” followed 278 sedentary adults over an 18-month period in an isolated workplace, the Dimona Nuclear Research Center, BGU said in a statement. The participants were provided with a monitored but randomized lunch that was either low-fat or Mediterranean-low-carb (Med-LC), and with or without a moderate, supervised workout three times a week.
Researchers then used MRI imaging technology to monitor the effects on fat deposits. The scans were taken at the 6-month mark and at 18 months as the trial concluded.
In the study, published by the American Heart Association journal, Circulation, the Mediterranean-low-carb “was found to be significantly superior to a low-fat diet in decreasing some of the fat storage pools,” BGU said, including in the abdomen, the liver, the heart and the pancreas. However, fat deposits in the kidney and neck were only affected by weight loss.
BGU Professor Iris Shai, the lead researcher, said the use of MRIs provided a more complete picture than having participants step on a scale.
“Weighing patients or using blood tests to detect changes, has not, until now, given us accurate pictures, literally, of how different fat deposits are impacted disproportionately by diet and exercise,” Shai said in a statement. “These findings suggest that moderate exercise combined with a Mediterranean/low carb diet may help reduce the amount of some fat deposits even if you don’t lose significant weight as part of the effort.”
The study followed followed other research by Shai in 2008 and 2012, which found that the Mediterranean diet was essential to improving cardio-metabolic state and reversing carotid atherosclerosis, a blockage of one of the two major arteries caused by plaque, made up of cholesterol, fat, cellular waste, protein,
The most recent study aimed to answer “whether internal body fat redistribution, rather than mild weight loss differences between the diets, may underline the significant health benefits attributed to Med-LC diets,” the researchers indicated.
Shai said the Central MRI study demonstrates that “improving nutritional quality and being physically active can improve cardio-metabolic risk markers through changes in visceral/ectopic fat deposits that are not reflected by changes in body weight alone,” and that “moderate, but persistent, weight loss may have dramatic beneficial effects on fat deposits related to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.”