What is the ‘green’ Mediterranean diet and how does it impact gut health?

Image of women following green Mediterranean diet. (Getty Images)
A 'green' version of the Mediterranean diet has been found to reduce stiffness. (Getty Images)

The Mediterranean diet has consistently been touted as one of the healthiest diets to follow with benefits including boosting cardiovascular health and aiding weight loss as well as having a positive effect on gut health.

But now a 'green' version of the popular eating regime has been found to be twice as effective as the traditional one at preventing and reducing potentially deadly blood vessel stiffness.

While the more traditional Mediterranean diet consists of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood, beans, olive oil and nuts along with some red meat and wine, the 'green' version focuses more on green plants and reduced meat consumption.

New research, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), found this boost in polyphenols - micronutrients from plants - reduced blood vessel stiffness by 15% over an 18-month trial involving 300 people.

Meanwhile, the traditional Med diet reduces stiffness by 7.3% and a recommended healthy diet by 4.8%.

Image of green Mediterranean diet. (Getty Images)
The green Mediterranean diet involves consuming more plant-based foods. (Getty Images)

The team from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel said proximal aortic stiffness (PAS) is a marker of vascular ageing and increased cardiovascular risk.

They pitted the green Mediterranean diet against the healthy Mediterranean diet and a healthy guideline-recommended control diet.

"A healthy lifestyle is a strong basis for improving cardiometabolic health," study author Professor Iris Shai explains.

"Dietary polyphenols, substituting red meat with equivalent plant-based protein, show promise for improving various aspects of human health.

"However, to date, no dietary strategies have been shown to impact vascular ageing physiology."

Co-author Dr Gal Tsaban added: "The results of our study highlight, once again, that not all diets provide similar benefits and that the green Mediterranean diet may promote vascular health."

What is the green Mediterranean diet?

The Green Mediterranean diet is a more plant-based version of the traditional Mediterranean diet. "While both diets share a focus on plant-based foods, healthy fats, and lean proteins, the green Mediterranean diet goes a step further in its focus on green plants and reduced meat consumption," explains Kate Hilton, clinical dietitian at FeelGut.co.uk.

"It ramps up the intake of specific plant foods like green tea and Mankai duckweed and minimises red meat and poultry more than the traditional version."

Woman drinking green juice with green foods next to her. (Getty Images)
Following a green Mediterranean diet has benefits for gut health. (Getty Images)

What impact does following a greener diet have on gut health?

In terms of health claims and benefits, Hilton says both diets are adopted for their positive impacts on heart health, weight management, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

"However, the green Mediterranean diet, with its stronger emphasis on green plants and reduced red meat, may offer additional benefits for gut health due to its higher fibre content thanks to a more diverse range of plant-based nutrients," she explains.

"It’s widely recommended that we should eat around 30 different plants per week, the green Mediterranean diet makes our weekly intake of plants more achievable.

"The increased intake of greens and plant-based nutrients improves digestive health and a stronger gut microbiome."

But before you vow to start the new year going greener, Sarah Sharpe, nutrition expert at Nutri Advanced has some words of advice.

"Whilst this diet isn’t unhealthy, there are a few things to look out for when following the green Mediterranean diet," she explains. "When switching to a high plant food diet, particularly if you aren’t used to eating a high volume of vegetables to begin with, it can take a little while for your digestive tract to adjust to the new volume of plant fibres and whilst it is catching up then you might experience some bloating and wind or changes in bowel habits".

Woman eating a green leaf salad. (Getty Images)
Eating a wider variety of plants can have an impact on the gut microbiome. (Getty Images)

Sharpe says taking a vegetarian digestive enzyme, such as Similase, can help with this transition and ease some of the discomfort by helping to break the food down for you.

"You might also like to take a probiotic that can support gut motility or sluggish bowel and ease digestive discomfort whilst you are increasing your plant food intake," she adds.

When following a green Med diet you should also take care if eliminating meat products all together as some people may find it hard to obtain all of their nutrients from plant foods.

"For example, B12 and iron can be harder to eat at adequate levels in a vegan diet and you may want to consider a supplement for those or a good quality multivitamin," Sharpe continues.

Whilst lowering carbohydrates in favour of protein isn’t always a bad idea Sharpe says it is important to remember that we do still need carbohydrates and this diet does still include plenty of sources of balanced carbohydrates.

"Finally, the big change for some people when embarking on a largely plant based diet might be that might be doing more food preparation than they are used to and may be tempted to rack for processed plant foods," Sharpe adds.

"Making small achievable steps toward their goal will help enormously with the success of any new dietary plan."

It is also worth consulting with a dietitian and your doctor if you are considering a drastic change to your diet.

Additional reporting SWNS.

Gut health: Read more

Watch: Food swaps to help you follow a Mediterranean-based diet