Is the Mediterranean diet healthier than keto?

Dietary choices play a crucial role in maintaining health and wellness. Among the numerous options available today, the Mediterranean diet and the ketogenic, or “keto,” diet stand out due to their unique approaches and purported health benefits.

These diets are for those looking to improve their health outcomes and those seeking sustainable weight management solutions.

Both diets have garnered significant attention for their health benefits, yet they offer distinct nutritional profiles and health outcomes.

This blog aims to clearly compare these two popular diets, highlighting their benefits and potential drawbacks.

Whether you’re considering a diet for heart health, weight loss, or overall well-being, understanding the key aspects of each diet can help you make a well-informed decision that aligns with your lifestyle and health goals.

What are the effects of Mediterranean diet on the body?

The Mediterranean diet, celebrated for its heart-healthy and longevity-promoting benefits, has a multifaceted impact on the body. 

This diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, offers a well-rounded approach to eating that many find not only enjoyable but also sustainable over the long term [1].

It can enhance heart health by reducing risks of cardiovascular diseases, stabilize blood sugar levels, improve brain function and mental health, and even contribute to a longer life by reducing overall mortality risks

Let’s explore further some of the key benefits the Mediterranean diet can provide:

Heart health improvement

The Mediterranean diet significantly boosts heart health. It’s rich in monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, primarily from olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish, which are essential for keeping your heart in good shape.

These fats help reduce harmful cholesterol and lower blood pressure, crucial factors in preventing heart disease.

Moreover, the diet’s focus on whole grains and fresh produce also contributes to cardiovascular health by improving arterial function and reducing inflammation. 

Numerous studies support this diet’s effectiveness, consistently showing a decrease in the risk of heart-related illnesses among those who follow it. This makes the Mediterranean diet a powerful tool for maintaining a healthy heart.

Cognitive function support

Supporting cognitive function is another notable benefit of the Mediterranean diet. The rich intake of antioxidants and healthy fats, especially from sources like olive oil and nuts, plays a key role in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, which can adversely affect brain health. 

Regular consumption of these nutrients has been linked to a slowdown in cognitive decline and a lowered risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. 

Additionally, the diet’s emphasis on whole, nutrient-dense foods contributes to overall brain health, making it a smart choice for long-term cognitive maintenance and function.

Diabetes management and prevention

The Mediterranean diet is highly effective for managing and preventing diabetes. It focuses on low glycemic index foods that help stabilize blood sugar levels [2]. Here’s how it supports diabetic health:

  • Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables slow digestion and prevent spikes in blood sugar.
  • Olive oil and nuts improve insulin sensitivity.
  • Emphasis on healthy carbs helps manage blood glucose levels.

This balanced approach not only aids in maintaining an optimal blood sugar profile but also helps prevent type 2 diabetes, making it a strategic choice for those concerned with diabetes.

Weight management and obesity prevention

Weight management and obesity prevention

The Mediterranean diet helps manage weight and prevent obesity. Here’s how it helps maintain a healthy weight:

  • Whole grains, fruits, and veggies all help you feel filled for longer periods of time, which reduces overeating.
  • Dietary staples like almonds and olive oil help you feel fuller without having as many calories as harmful fats.
  • The focus on nutrient-dense foods leads to less space for high-calorie processed foods, naturally reducing calorie intake.

This method promotes good long-term eating habits, which are essential for managing weight in the long run, in addition to helping with weight loss.

Better mental health

The Mediterranean diet also plays a significant role in promoting better mental health. Here’s why it’s beneficial:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, a diet staple, boosts brain function and mood.
  • Vegetables and fruits shield the brain from inflammatory and stressful conditions that can harm mental health.
  • A well-rounded diet supports overall brain health, reducing the risk of mood disorders.

This diet’s nutritional profile helps modulate neurotransmitters and reduce inflammation, both of which are crucial for maintaining mental well-being and preventing conditions like depression.

What are the benefits of a keto diet?

The ketogenic, or “keto,” diet is renowned for its distinct approach to fat loss and its therapeutic benefits, particularly in neurological conditions [3]. It offers numerous benefits that extend beyond rapid weight loss.

Keto diet is known for its ability to improve metabolic efficiency, enhance brain function, and stabilize blood sugar levels. By drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing fat consumption, the body enters a state of ketosis, which can lead to improved health outcomes across several domains. 

Let’s explore the key advantages of the keto diet in more detail. 

Rapid weight loss

This diet shifts your body into ketosis, a state where it burns fat for fuel instead of carbs. 

Your body uses fat stores as energy when you eat foods high in fat and low in carbohydrates, which causes you to lose weight.

High-fat diets help decrease overall hunger, which naturally reduces calorie intake. Your body burns fat more quickly while in ketosis, which accelerates weight loss attempts.

These factors combine to make the keto diet an effective option for those looking to lose weight quickly.

Reduction in triglycerides

The keto diet is effective at reducing triglycerides, which are a type of fat found in your bloodstream. High levels are often linked to an increased risk of heart disease. 

Since triglyceride levels are influenced by carbohydrate consumption, particularly sugars, cutting carbs leads to lower triglyceride levels. By using fat as the primary energy source, the body taps into triglyceride stores, reducing their overall levels.

Enhanced metabolism through ketosis further aids in the reduction of triglycerides [3]. These changes can significantly lower the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Enhanced brain function

When your body enters ketosis, it starts to use ketones, rather than glucose, as its main energy source, which offers several advantages for your brain:

  • Ketones provide a consistent energy supply that can help improve concentration and reduce brain fog.
  • Research suggests that ketones have protective effects on brain cells, which can help guard against neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Many report increased clarity and focus as the highs and lows of sugar spikes are eliminated from their diet.

These aspects contribute to better mental performance and cognitive health.

Improved blood sugar and insulin levels

The keto diet significantly improves blood sugar and insulin levels, offering a beneficial strategy for those with diabetes or insulin resistance. Here’s how it works:

  • Drastically cutting down on carbohydrates reduces blood sugar spikes, which stabilizes overall glucose levels.
  • As the body adapts to burning fat for fuel, cells become more responsive to insulin, enhancing its effectiveness.
  • These changes can decrease the need for insulin and other diabetes medications, as evidenced in various studies.

This approach not only helps manage existing conditions but may also prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.

Lowered blood pressure

Lowering blood pressure is another key benefit of the keto diet. Heart disease and stroke are just two of the major health problems for which high blood pressure is a risk factor. 

The diet lowers insulin levels, which can decrease blood pressure. Losing excess weight is beneficial for lowering blood pressure, and the keto diet is effective for significant weight reduction. Reducing carbs leads to less water retention, which can lower blood pressure.

These factors combined make the keto diet a viable option for managing hypertension effectively.

What are the barriers to the Mediterranean diet?

Adopting the Mediterranean diet can offer numerous health benefits, but several barriers might make it challenging for some individuals to fully embrace this dietary pattern.

One of the primary obstacles is the cost and availability of key ingredients like fresh seafood and high-quality olive oil, which can be expensive and less accessible in certain regions.

Additionally, those used to a Western diet might find it difficult to adjust to the Mediterranean emphasis on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, particularly if their palate is accustomed to processed foods and higher meat consumption.

Another barrier is the need for cooking, as the Mediterranean diet relies heavily on home-prepared meals, which can be a hurdle for people with limited time or cooking skills.

While the Mediterranean diet is celebrated for its numerous health benefits, there are a few risks and considerations to keep in mind:

  • Nutrient deficiencies – Although it’s rich in many nutrients, there’s a potential risk of not getting enough iron or vitamin D, especially if dietary diversity isn’t maintained.
  • Caloric intake – The diet includes liberal use of olive oil and nuts, which are high in calories. Monitoring portion sizes is essential to avoid unintentional weight gain [4].
  • Cost and accessibility – Some key ingredients, like fresh seafood and high-quality olive oil, can be expensive and not always easy to find, depending on where you live. This could make following the diet challenging.

It’s important to balance the diet with a variety of foods to ensure a comprehensive nutrient intake and consider budget-friendly and accessible alternatives to some of the traditional ingredients.

What are the risks of the keto diet?

The keto diet, while popular for its rapid weight loss and potential health benefits, carries several risks that are important to consider.

These include nutritional deficiencies due to limited food variety, increased stress on the liver and kidneys, and potential increases in cholesterol levels, among others.

It’s crucial to understand these risks to make an informed decision about whether this diet is suitable for your health needs.

While effective for weight loss and certain health benefits, the keto diet comes with its own set of risks and considerations:

  • Keto flu – Transitioning to ketosis can lead to symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and irritability, commonly known as the “keto flu.”
  • Nutritional deficiencies – Limiting carbs can lead to insufficient fiber and essential nutrients typically found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Kidney and liver stress – The high intake of fats and proteins may strain these organs, particularly if there’s a pre-existing condition.
  • Heart health concerns – Increased consumption of saturated fats can raise LDL cholesterol levels, potentially heightening heart disease risk.
  • Sustainability – Long-term adherence to the diet can be difficult and socially constraining due to its restricted character.

It’s crucial to consult healthcare professionals before starting the keto diet, especially for individuals with underlying health issues.

Is the Mediterranean diet better than keto?

Is the Mediterranean diet better than keto?

Determining whether the Mediterranean diet is better than the keto diet depends largely on individual health goals, lifestyle preferences, and medical conditions. Here are some considerations to help assess which diet might be more suitable for you:

  • Health objectives – If your goal is long-term heart health, improved cognitive function, and overall well-being, the Mediterranean diet is often recommended. It’s known for being rich in diverse nutrients that support these areas. On the other hand, the keto diet is typically chosen for rapid weight loss or for managing certain health conditions like epilepsy and type 2 diabetes.
  • Sustainability – The Mediterranean diet is generally considered easier to maintain over the long term because it allows for a wider variety of foods and does not require strict macronutrient tracking. The keto diet, however, involves stringent carb limits and a high fat intake, which can be challenging to adhere to permanently, particularly in social settings.
  • Nutritional balance – The Mediterranean diet provides a balanced mix of macronutrients and is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, which are associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases. The keto diet, while effective for certain outcomes, restricts many nutrient-rich foods, potentially leading to deficiencies if not carefully managed.

Ultimately, the choice between the Mediterranean diet and the keto diet should be made based on personal health conditions, dietary preferences, and lifestyle factors.

Consulting with a healthcare provider or a dietitian can provide personalized guidance to help you make the best decision for your individual health needs.

Closing thoughts

Choosing the right diet is a deeply personal decision that impacts not just your physical health but your overall well-being. Both the Mediterranean diet and the keto diet offer compelling benefits, from heart health and weight management to improved mental function.

Your diet is part of a broader lifestyle choice. Incorporating regular physical activity, managing stress, and ensuring adequate sleep are all critical factors in achieving and maintaining optimal health.

Start your path to wellness today by making informed, healthy dietary choices that align with your personal goals and preferences.

FAQs

Can I lose weight on the Mediterranean diet?

Yes, you can lose weight on the Mediterranean diet by emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while controlling portion sizes. It promotes a balanced way of eating rather than restricting calories.

Can I eat carbs on the keto diet?

Yes, but in very limited amounts. The keto diet focuses on low carbohydrate intake to maintain a state of ketosis, typically allowing for 20-50 grams of carbs per day.

Can the keto diet help manage diabetes?

Yes, the keto diet can help manage and even prevent type 2 diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making dietary changes for diabetes management.

[1] https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/whole-foods-diet/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7468821/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/
[4] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/mediterranean-diet/

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.