Moving beyond the myths of the Mediterranean diet.


Mediterranean Diet

Don’t be fooled! Moving beyond the myths of the Mediterranean diet.

Jeff Novick, MS, RDN

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times,  How to Get America on the Mediterranean Diet, Paul Greenberg said:

  • “Weight-loss fads and eating trends come and go, but the so-called Mediterranean diet has stood fast. ‘Among all diets,’ Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded in an email, ‘the traditional Mediterranean diet is most strongly supported for delivering long term health and wellbeing.’”

Really?  Because in 2011, The New York Timespublished an article, Does the Mediterranean Diet Even Exist?  Following are some key points of the article:

  • “In Europe and the United States, the so-called Mediterranean diet — rich in olive oil, whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables and wine — is a multibillion-dollar global brand, encompassing everything from hummus to package trips to Italy, where ‘enogastronomic tourism’ rakes in as much as five billion euros a year.”
  • “According to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Mediterranean people have some of the worst diets in Europe, and the Greeks are the fattest: about 75 percent of the Greek population is overweight.”
  • “Before there was a Mediterranean diet, there was WWII and the food shortages that went along with it. When the fighting was over, Haqvin Mamrol, a researcher in Sweden, showed that mortality from coronary disease declined in Northern European countries during the war. This was, he believed, the result of wartime restrictions on milk, butter, eggs and meat.”
  • “There is no such thing called the Mediterranean diet; there are Mediterranean diets,’ says Rami Zurayk, an agriculture professor at the American University in Beirut. ‘They share some commonalities — there is a lot of fruits and vegetables, there is a lot of fresh produce in them, they are eaten in small dishes, there is less meat in them. These are common characteristics, but there are many different Mediterranean diets.”
  • “The healthy versions of these diets do have one other thing in common: they are what the Italians called ‘cucina povera,’ the ‘food of the poor.’ In Ancel Keys’s day, Mediterraneans ate lentils instead of meat because they had no choice. ‘A lot of it is to do with poverty, not geography,’ says Sami Zubaida, a leading scholar on food and culture.”
  • “More than half the populations of Italy, Portugal and Spain are overweight. In Eastern Mediterranean countries like Lebanon, obesity is growing.”

Don’t be fooled! We need to move beyond the cultural myths of the Mediterranean diet and the misguided marketing and advertising of olive oil as a health food, to a truly healthful lifestyle and eating pattern that is simple, easy and based on sound science. Stick to a diet based predominately on a variety of minimally-processed fruits, vegetables, intact whole grains, legumes and pulses that is also low in fat, saturated fat, added sugars and salt.

In Health





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