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Mediterranean vs. Keto: Comparing the Two Diets

Author: Angela Lisle

When you think of the Mediterranean diet vs Keto, you might visualize beautiful people lounging, drinking wine and slowly enjoying a seaside feast compared with muscle bound super athletes who pound high fat protein. However, that would be a gross oversimplification of both of these ways of eating. 

You might also ask yourself, “is the Mediterranean diet better than Keto” or “are Keto and the Mediterranean diet similar” as you ponder what approach might benefit your journey to a healthier lifestyle most. The answers to those questions are not necessarily simple either. At Noom, we want to help you find what works for you and your daily life. So let’s start by reviewing the basics of the Mediterranean diet vs Keto.

Basics of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet can be traced back to the customary eating styles of those countries closest to the Mediterranean Sea. Because of this, there isn’t really one specific way to do the Mediterranean diet. However, there are some commonalities between the cuisines and habits in these cultures. 

First of all, Mediterranean cultures often eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and potatoes, as well as plant based proteins like beans, nuts, and seeds. Lean protein sources like low fat dairy, eggs, fish, and poultry are also encouraged in moderate amounts for those who enjoy them. Unsaturated fats are a very important factor as well, olive oil being one of the most commonly utilized in this style of cooking.

On the other hand, red meats, saturated fats like butter, and processed foods (especially high glycemic carbs) are minimized for the most part, as well as desserts, which are often swapped for something like a fruit plate. But if you enjoy wine, it is allowed in small amounts, especially at meals. 

Basics of the Ketogenic diet

The Ketogenic diet was originally created as a tool for treatment of epilepsy, but it has been used in more recent years as a tool for weight loss and to build muscle. To understand the Keto diet, you must first acknowledge that the main goal is to push the body into ketosis, so that it will burn fat instead of carbohydrates.

As with the Mediterranean diet, there are also many versions of the Ketogenic diet. Overall, it is primarily focused on lowering carbs while increasing healthy fats to achieve this state of ketosis more often. Most Keto plans restrict carbs to approximately 15-20 net carbs per day and increase fat intake to about 70% of daily calories. 

At the same time, fatty cuts of meat are not only included but foundational to the diet. Next, high fiber and low starch/low carb veggies are suggested in moderate amounts. Finally, nuts and full fat dairy, as well as small amounts of low carb fruits, such as berries, are allowed.

Similarities between the Mediterranean diet and Keto

Although there are quite a few differences when you compare the Mediterran diet vs Keto, there are also many similarities. For example, both diets reduce processed foods, especially high glycemic carbohydrates, sweets, and unhealthy fats, like trans fats. We can definitely get behind that!

In addition, both diets suggest an increase in low carb vegetables and fruits in moderation. On top of that, getting enough protein is a key factor in each of these regimens, although the Mediterranean diet showcases more of a low calorie density approach and the Keto diet advocates for more high fat alternatives.

If budget is an issue for you, both of these diets may be difficult to maintain. Fresh, sustainable sources for meat or seafood, fruits, and vegetables are not often inexpensive and can sometimes be hard to find depending on where you live. 

Is the Mediterrean diet better than Keto?

After comparing and contrasting Mediterranean vs Keto, which one is better? Well, it all depends on who you ask and your personal situation. There are both positives and negatives to each type of program. 

Perhaps most important, Keto requires approximately three times as much fat each day than what is recommended by most experts and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Because of that, there can be risks for those with chronic health conditions, including liver or kidney disease.

On the other hand, there are definitely doctors who recommend Keto, especially for specific purposes and under medical supervision. For instance, many people find it helps them lower their blood sugar or manage their diabetes more effectively due to the restriction of carbs. However, the long-term, scientific evidence just isn’t there yet.

When comparing the two diets, the biggest drawback to Keto is that it is not always easy to maintain in the long term due to its restrictive nature. If you love carbs and can’t possibly see a life without them, trying Keto may be torturous for you, and likely impossible to stick with. On the flipside, if bacon wrapped asparagus turns you on, and sweets and carbs don’t hold much appeal in your diet, you may love it and find it more sustainable. 

In the short term, adjustment to Keto can sometimes be unpleasant, as it can have side effects. In fact, many get what is called the “Keto flu” as the body adjusts to those major changes in carb and fat intake.  But for those looking for a quick jump start, or need to lose quickly for a specific reason but aren’t as concerned about maintenance, many people find that Keto a better option.

That being said, Noom believes that behavior change trumps short-term fixes, and that sustainability should be the driver of any eating style you choose. For people who want something more gradual and balanced overall, the Mediterranean diet is often a better choice. In fact, it is recommended by the American Heart Association as a healthy way to focus on nutrition, especially if you prefer to cut back or avoid meat and focus more on plant based options.   

Nevertheless, even on the Mediterranean diet, carb-heavy foods like pasta need to be kept in moderation. Plus, those carbs should be more focused on eating the rainbow and including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, rather than bread, wine, or pasta, even though all foods are allowed.

Surprisingly, it is also possible to do more of a hybrid diet that hits notes of both Mediterranean and Keto by centering more on meats with healthy fats like fish which are cooked in unprocessed oils. Low-carb veggies and fruits can be wonderful sides for these types of dishes as well. 

Still trying to figure out whether the Mediterranean diet vs Keto (or some crazy combination of both) would work better for you? Or if the most sustainable eating style for you doesn’t include any labels? (Hint: That’s what we often find!). We’ve got some great tools and techniques to help you focus on your diet and weight loss goals at Noom!