The Main Points
Before noting health benefits or weight loss success of the Pesco Mediterranean diet, here is a summary of the key components:
- It is a plant-rich diet (lifestyle).
- It is rich in tree nuts.
- Fish and seafood are the principle sources of animal protein.
- The principle fat source is extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), but it does allow for moderate amounts of dairy (particularly fermented yogurt and cheese), as well as some eggs.
- Modest amounts of alcohol consumption is compliant with the diet (ideally red wine with the evening meal).
- Very few red and/or processed meats are included.
- Intermittent fasting is a key component, both for weight loss and from a health standpoint.
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How is this Different from a Regular Mediterranean Diet?
The traditional Mediterranean diet has been endorsed for heart health in many academic or research publications. Recently, and for the past several years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked it #1 for overall health.
This ranking was based upon it being nutritious, safe, relatively easy to follow, protective against cardio vascular disease and diabetes, as well as effective for weight loss. Many studies have concluded the Mediterranean diet can help reduce the risk for metabolic issues (such as diabetes and high cholesterol), breast cancer and memory issues such as dementia, while promoting healthy heart, bones and joints (as referenced in this CNN article).
The primary difference between a Pesco Mediterranean diet and the classic Mediterranean diet is the intermittent fasting component.
The emphasis on fish and seafood is the other key variant. These may seem like small differences, but they are important distinctions.
Is it Good for Weight Loss?
The classic Mediterranean diet has long been established as a healthy diet that “can be” effective for weight loss. I think it’s longevity has resulted in boredom for many people. It is sometimes far more sexy to follow a trendy diet promoted by “influencers”.
The other reason I believe people may not have achieved weight loss with a classic Mediterranean diet is that it involves whole foods, which often means cooking or preparing food.
Americans seem to have lost some of the art of cooking and preparing whole foods, as life became busy and processed food became abundant, inexpensive and quick.
Two Key Concepts to Help with Weight Loss
- The addition of intermittent fasting to the diet should help, but it is not a given that it will result in weight loss without learning how to accommodate whole foods into your lifestyle.
- Cooking compliant meals is even more tricky with a Pesco Mediterranean lifestyle, because fish can be one of the more intimidating and expensive things for people to cook (at least in .the U.S.)
What Kind of Intermittent Fasting is Needed for Weight Loss?
Intermittent fasting (aka time-restricted eating) is essentially limiting the eating window of your day. The most frequently cited form of intermittent fasting related to weight loss is 16/8 (16 hours of daily fasting and an 8-hour eating window).
This typically means skipping breakfast, but some prefer to skip dinner instead. I have not found any research that shows a preference to the time of day of the eating window.
For weight loss benefits, a 18-6 intermittent fasting regime (18 hours of fasting to a 6-hour eating window) seems to be even more beneficial.
Of course this makes sense from a calorie standpoint. The less time you eat in a day most often relates to few calories, given you are on a particular diet or lifestyle that doesn’t include an overload of sugar and processed food.
Some studies have promoted intermittent fasting as a method to achieve “fat loss” rather than just “weight loss”, and I wholeheartedly agree with this concept.
The idea is that intermittent fasting promotes glucose metabolism. After a 12-hour overnight fast, insulin levels are typically low, and glycogen stores have been depleted. This means when you wake up and your body is looking for energy, you will mobilize fat for energy rather than glucose.
There are a range of documented health benefits to intermittent fasting (insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, etc.) that are relevant to people not trying to lose weight, but the weight loss benefit is meaningful to many people looking for a healthy lifestyle (reference is from the National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information NCBI).
Caveat from the American College of Cardiology (ACC): “The evidence regarding time-restricted eating is mostly based on animal models and observational human studies. The most popular form of time-restricted eating involves eating two rather than three meals and compressing the calorie-consumption window”.
No head-to-head studies have been performed to assess the optimal time window.”
Is it a Healthy Diet Plan?
This is a quote from the authors of a American College of Cardiology (ACC) study comparing the health of popular diets (same link to article as above):
“Humans are evolutionarily adapted to obtain calories and nutrients from both plant and animal food sources. Many people overconsume animal products, often-processed meats high in saturated fats and chemical additives.
In contrast, while strict veganism has gained popularity for many reasons and has value in certain groups, it can cause nutritional deficiencies (vitamin B12, high-quality proteins, iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin D, and calcium), and predispose to osteopenia, loss of muscle mass, and anemia.
This is not true of a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which allows no animal-based food except for eggs and dairy.
A 6-year study of 73,308 North American Adventists reported a decreased incidence of all-cause mortality when comparing vegetarians with nonvegetarians.
However, when the vegetarians were stratified into vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, and semi-vegetarians, the pesco-vegetarians had lowest risks for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality, and mortality from other causes.”
My Personal Experience
I have personally followed low carb, slow carb, and keto diet plans and have seen weight loss (and fat loss) with all of them. With respect to overall health parameters, they each have their pros and cons.
I believe the main problems with these low carb approaches for some people are:
- They involve excluding certain food groups. Elimination of an entire food group “may” result in nutritional deficiencies;
- They are hard to sustain long-term. Keto, in particular, does not seem to be sustainable for many, many people over the long run.
- They can include too much red meat, as the high protein nature of these low carb approaches can be difficult to achieve without red meat. Much of the current research favors plant-based diets over diets heavy in red meat if the goal is “health”.
Therefore, the Pesco Mediterranean approach has become my long-term sustainable plan.
Why are these Foods Important to the Diet?
The Case for EVOO
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the oil of choice in the classic Mediterranean diet, as well as the Pesco Mediterranean diet. EVOO is used for cooking vegetables, in salads (with vinegar) and in sautéing fish.
It is important to note, however that olive oil quality is crucial, which makes it expensive. It is also important to note that EVOO has a low smoke point and can quickly turn rancid if used in high heat cooking.
The reason EVOO is so crucial to health aspects of a Mediterranean diet is it retains components of olives which are believed to underlie many of EVOO’s heart-healthy benefits (such as reduced LDL-C cholesterol and increased HDL-C cholesterol and a lower diabetes risk. (Source: American College of Cardiology).
There is a significant amount of information available on the large number of olive oil brands. I’ve tried several. A recommended 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), highly rated by both home cooks and professional chefs, is referenced in this article. It is produced in northern California by a family owned business with origins in Lucca, Italy and can be found here on Amazon. If you fall in love with it and use it every day, you can also find it in a more economical (price per ounce) large 3 liter box .
Why are Nuts, Seeds and Legumes Important to a Pesco Mediterranean Diet?
Nuts are typically high in fat and calories and they are the main preventative for me in losing weight on the Pesco Mediterranean diet because I do tend to go overboard. That is not to say they aren’t healthy however!
Nuts and legumes are two of the food components that are common to the diet of the five regions of the “Blue Zones”, a world-wide study that analyzed the criteria for healthy longevity.
Although the American College of Cardiology (ACC) study states that generous intake of nuts and/or legumes does not promote weight gain because of increased satiety and incomplete digestion, I have not found that to be true anecdotally for me.
Nuts were also the main culprit in preventing weight loss not only for me personally, but also for many of my previous clients whom I coached as a diet and health coach.
No doubt nuts are healthy however, and if you are choosing this type of lifestyle for health rather than weight loss, generous helpings of tree nuts can be beneficial.
Legumes can be a healthy protein substitute for red meat and processed meats, especially if you do not like to cook fish. Legumes are defined as members of the bean family. This family is large and diverse and contains over 16,000 species!
Consumption of legumes has been linked to improvements in blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight. See a great chart on legumes below.
Seeds are also important to a healthy diet as well as nuts and legumes, and are rich in:
- Healthy fats (higher proportion of polyunsaturated fats)
- Minerals (such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, plant iron and zinc)
- Vitamins B1, B2 and B3.
Oily seeds also contain antioxidants that stop the fats from going rancid too quickly. These antioxidants have several health benefits as well! My favorite seeds to add to salads, soups or even to plain Greek Yogurt include:
- Chia seeds.
- Pumpkin seeds.
- Sunflower seeds.
- Hemp seeds.
- Sesame seeds.
Dairy and Eggs
There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus in the nutrition field on the benefits of dairy products to overall health.
They are allowed in the Pesco Mediterranean diet, with an emphasis on fermented versions of dairy such as yogurt and soft cheeses.
Eggs are allowed in the Pesco-Mediterranean diet; egg whites are unlimited and preferably no more than 5 yolks/week.
The Relevance of Whole Grains
In contrast to most of the popular low carb diets, whole grains, such as barley, whole oats, rye, corn, buckwheat, brown rice, and quinoa, are an integral part of the traditional Mediterranean diet.
Most of the low carb and keto diet approaches do not allow grains of any sort, based around causing an insulin response. I have followed a low carb and keto approach for many years now, so this idea of eating grains is anxiety-producing to me.
Although I am now following the Pesco Mediterranean approach, I still try to be cautious with whole grains, keeping them to a minimum.
Even if the grains do not result in weight gain, there are many people today that must eat gluten free. The inclusion of grains as an “allowed food” in the Pesco Mediterranean diet doesn’t mean it is a necessity by any means.
I would say the same for dairy, if you have a problem with dairy. A great meal plan of fish, legumes, plant-based foods and EVOO, accompanied by intermittent fasting is a perfectly sustainable (and delicious) lifestyle.
What about pasta? The American College of Cardiology (ACC) explains pasta in the inclusion of grains like this:
“Pasta is an example of a starchy food that has a low glycemic index despite being a refined carbohydrate. In the context of a low glycemic index dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet, pasta does not adversely affect adiposity and may even help reduce body weight and there is no evidence that pasta promotes cardiometabolic risk factors.”
Beverages Compliant with a Pesco Mediterranean Diet
The standard for beverages on any weight loss or health lifestyle seems to be consistent across the board:
- Water, which can be flavored but not sweetened.
- Tea or coffee (unsweetened).
- Dry red wine daily: 6 ounces for women and 6-12 ounces for men, consumed with meals.
Pesco Mediterranean Dinner Recipes
As noted earlier, cooking fish can be intimidating to many people, particularly Americans. Here are a few simple fish dinner recipes that fit this diet and are quick to prepare:
- Seared Tuna with White Bean Side Dish
- Cioppino (or Bouillabaisse or Fish Stew)
- Plum Sauce for Salmon or Fish Dinners
- Mediterranean Fish Veracruz
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Online Diet/Health Coaching:
Although I am not currently taking clients for diet & health coaching, I have been a coach for many years with the online service called coach.me. It is a great platform for all kinds of coaching – anything from specific diets, writing a blog, getting up early, or getting rid of that pesky procrastination.
There are some wonderful coaches and the testimonials will tell you what you need to know. Contact me at [email protected] to get a referral to some of the tested, experienced online coaches on Coach.me
If you’d like to start with a plan for a low carb or keto lifestyle, check out this detailed guide in ebook form. It may be all you need to lose weight on this lifestyle. Or it may be used as a supplement to one-to-one coaching.