The ketogenic diet may have been the buzziest eating plan in 2018, but is it the healthiest overall? According to U.S. News and World Report, the tried-and-true Mediterranean diet rises to take the top honor.
A panel of health experts examined and ranked 41 popular eating plans, concluding that the Mediterranean diet is the most universally beneficial for long-term health. Further down the list, U.S. News named the DASH diet as the second healthiest, with Weight Watchers as fourth, vegetarian as 11th, vegan as 20th, Paleo as 33rd, and Whole30 and keto tied for 38th.
What makes the Mediterranean diet so beloved by MDs and nutrition experts? Registered dietitian Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, points to the fact that it emphasizes the consumption of foods high in omega-3s and healthy fats, like fish, olive oil, nuts, grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies. “[Olive oil] has tremendous cardiovascular benefits,” she says. Slayton adds that it’s also a pretty easy diet for people to stick to; it’s not overly restrictive like many other popular eating plans (red wine is definitely on the Mediterranean menu!).
A few other benefits to the diet you might not know:
1. It’s good for your gut. One study found that people who follow the Mediterranean diet had a higher population of good bacteria in their microbiome, compared to those who ate a traditional Western diet. Researchers noted an increase in eating plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and legumes upped the good bacteria by 7 percent!
2. It slows down the aging process. Thanks to all the anti-inflammatory foods like olive oil, leafy greens, and nuts, a Mediterranean diet protects the body against oxidative stress and inflammation—both keys for slowing down the aging process. And that’s good news for your entire body—especially your brain.
3. It has special benefits for post-menopausal women. Get this: The Mediterranean diet has even been linked to positively impacting muscle mass in bone health in post-menopausal women. Again, the main reason is the increased intake of plant-based foods and decreased meat consumption that’s core to the eating plan.
Yet as the world recognizes the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, eating habits within the region from which it hails have shifted. Children in Greece, Italy, and Spain are less healthy than ever, with an obesity rate of more than 40 percent, according to the World Health Organization, in part because they’re eating more processed foods and drinking more soda than previous generations. (Sound familiar?) To fix it, experts say, Mediterranean countries need only to get back to their roots.