Can You do a Low Carb, Mediterranean Diet?

Max Carmody, MSc

You can create your own version of a low carb, mediterranean diet. There are some differences between the two diets, but many similarities. To combine the two, take a standard Mediterranean diet, but eat a little bit less red meat than you normally would, focusing more on poultry and fish, and add a little bit more of healthy, complex carbs such as whole grains, and leave out the butter, focusing on olive oil more.

What are Carbs?

Carbs, or carbohydrates, are a type of macronutrient, found in food and drinks. Macronutrients are nutrients that your body needs in large quantities in order to function. The other types of macronutrients are fats and proteins. The digestive system breaks down carbs into glucose, or blood sugar. The bloodstream absorbs glucose, and uses it as energy to function. There are different types of carbs. The main two types are simple carbs, and complex carbs. Simple carbs are found in things like table sugar, and fruit, and complex carbs are in things like whole grains. Both types of carbs give your body energy. However, simple carbs provide shorter bursts of energy, and complex carbs take longer for your body to break down, and are a longer lasting energy source.

What is a Low Carb Diet?

Simply put, and as the name suggests, a low carb diet is a diet where you restrict your carbohydrate intake. Low carb diets are typically under 130 grams of carbs a day, but can go as low as 50, or even 20, especially in the case of the Keto diet. Because you are restricting carbs, typically you make it up by eating more from the other food groups, protein and fats. There is not one type of low carb diets, but rather many different ones, some of which are commercial.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The mediterranean diet came out at some point in the 1960’s. There are many different definitions of it, each with slightly different goals for servings. It is based on eating patterns across many different mediterranean countries, countries near the mediterranean sea, such as France and Italy. It is widely considered to be the most healthy overall diet, and it especially has a lot of research showing that it may contribute to longevity. 

In the mediterranean diet, plant based foods and healthy fats are emphasized. Olive oil is the main source of fat. You are supposed to eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. You also eat a lot of beans, lentils, and nuts. You eat grains like wheat bread, and brown rice. A moderate amount of fish is eaten, especially fish like salmon high in healthy omega-3 fats. Moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt are eaten. A little bit or no meat is eaten, and poultry is preferred to red meat. There are few sweets, sugary drinks, or butter, but you can consume a moderate amount of wine, if you’re a drinker.

Can You Combine the Two?

Before attempting these two diets, I would recommend consulting with a nutritionist, or physician, to make sure that you are getting all necessary nutrients. But there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to dieting, you can really create and sort of diet that you want. There are some major differences between low carb and mediterranean and low carb, but there are some similarities. I believe that some sort of compromise could be found. Personally, I would rather just focus on one at a time rather than trying to combine the two, but that is purely personal, and I wouldn’t advice anybody else not to combine them.

You would not want to combine an extreme sort of low carb diet, such as Keto, with a mediterranean diet, it just wouldn’t work. This is because in a keto diet you are eating as few as 20 grams of carbs a day, and are limiting all carbs, even healthy whole grains. Healthy whole grains are quite possibly the main staple of a mediterranean diet, so you’ll definitely want at least some of those. This would be possible on a more moderate low carb diet, which does involve eating some whole grains. I’ve been on a moderate carb diet, where I ate cereal for breakfast, and rice for dinner every day, and I still lost a lot of weight.  There is a lot of flexibility, both with the mediterranean diet, and the low carb diet, because there is no one only type of either, so I believe that we could come to some type of compromise.

I’ll first go over some of the similarities of the two diets, then some of the differences between the two diets, and then provide recommendations on how I would combine them. One of the major similarities is that on both, sweets and sugary drinks are highly limited. Pretty much any healthy diet will limit sweets and sugar, or at least only have them in moderation. Another similarity is the emphasis on healthy fats, with an emphasis on olive oil in the mediterranean diet, and a more broad emphasis in a low carb diet. Eating omega-3 is highly encouraged in mediterranean diets, and even though it is not AS big a deal for a standard low carb diet, it works very well with it, fish and seafood are almost 0 carb. Both diets allow moderate amounts of wine, or they can, and although it is actually encouraged on a mediterranean diet, it is generally tolerated on a low carb diet. Eating some amount of lean meats such as poultry is also allowed on both diets. Moderate cheese and yogurt can generally be eaten on both. 

Now for the differences. Low carb diets are low in carbs, and mediterranean diets tend to be much higher in carbs, although they are still a relatively moderate amount. Butter is usually ok in low carb, but not necessarily mediterranean. Low carb diets usually encourage eating lots of meat, including red meat, while on the mediterranean diet, you don’t eat so much meat.

My recommendation, for if you want to combine the two, is eat a little bit more meat than you would normally on a mediterranean diet, with an especial focus on leaner meats such as poultry. And eat a bit fewer carbs than you would on a mediterranean diet, but keep them healthy whole grains, and maybe leave out butter or a lot of red meat. Besides, that, most of the other things are the same. 

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