The Difference Between The Mediterranean And Keto Diets

When it comes to diets, there is certainly no lack of choices — each with a slew of books, articles, and even movies touting that it is the key to shedding pounds and living a healthier life. This makes perfect sense, seeing as how the average person will attempt a whopping 126 diets in their lifetime, according to a British study (via Mirror). 

The Mediterranean diet and ketogenic (or keto) diet are two of the most popular diets out there. Each recommends eating more of some things and less of others. Both proclaim results of optimal health. Yet, the two diets are drastically different.

In its ranking of the Best Overall Diets for 2022, U.S. News and World Report has the Mediterranean diet as #1 on the list of 40, while keto sits near the bottom at #37. The reasoning behind the rankings has to do with the overall sensibility of each diet's approach to food. Keto, while promising quicker weight loss results, is very restrictive, medically controversial, and can be difficult to maintain in the long run. The Mediterranean diet, by contrast, is less restrictive, has deep cultural roots, and can help aid in long-term weight loss. 

So while both proclaim weight loss and better health, looking deeper into the differences between the two can help you decide which diet is best for you.

Culture and history with the Mediterranean diet

In her book "The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook," Nancy Harmon Jenkins tells us that the Mediterranean diet is a result of history and a "deep-seated and largely unspoken consensus that eating is one of the most important things we humans do in our lives." Interest in the diet began back in the 1950s. According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers at the time discovered that heart disease and stroke rates were far less common in Mediterranean countries than in the U.S. Subsequent studies have confirmed their findings. 

Since this diet is rooted in the food cultures of the Mediterranean, the main source of fat is olive oil. Add to that regular consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and seafood, a moderate consumption of poultry, eggs, and dairy, the rare consumption of red meat and sugars, and you have the basics of the Mediterranean diet (via Healthline). 

The idea behind the Mediterranean diet has less to do with restriction and more to do with balance and cultivating a long-term approach to health eating. Moderation is key. It's okay to have sweets or a good steak every once and a while. Eating Well lists some easy ways you can add elements of the Mediterranean diet in your everyday life such as using olive oil when cooking, snacking on nuts, eating more fish, and having (a little) wine. 

Keto is more restrictive

Keto entered the American diet vernacular between 2015 and 2017, thanks to popular podcast hosts Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan (via Paleo Foundation). Both men had keto promoter Dom D'Agostino on their shows, resulting in a big uptick in interest in the keto way of eating. According to Men's Health, within a year of the 2017 appearance of D'Agostino on "The Joe Rogan Experience," interest in keto skyrocketed.

Keto is based on food restrictions that promote the metabolic state of ketosis. According to WebMD, ketosis occurs when the body, devoid of carbohydrates, uses its fat stores for fuel. When the body enters ketosis, fat is burned rapidly. As Healthline notes, keto-banned foods include alcohol, sugar, grains/starches, most fruit, beans/legumes, root vegetables, and processed oils. Keto-favorable foods are meat, fatty fish, eggs, cheese/cream, nuts, avocados, and low-carb veggies. Due to the high fat intake and practical nonexistence of carbs, there is more fat for the body to burn. However, ketosis is a moving target. As Men's Health explains, one slip could slow or stop ketosis entirely. 

Keto fans claim a slew of health benefits when following the diet, including lowering blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, reducing epileptic seizures in children, and potentially slowing cancerous tumor growth (via Healthline). However, there is a good deal of skepticism in the medical field when it comes to the keto diet, particularly in terms of its restrictiveness and unsustainability long-term, according to the University of Chicago Medicine

Ultimately, the choice is up to you and your own research. As registered nurse and clinical dietician Rachel Kleinman told University of Chicago Medicine, "There's not one diet that's good for everyone. Do your research, consult a dietitian, discuss with your doctor, and make sure you're being safe."