What Mediterranean Diet?
Updated: Jul 27
A recent New York Times article, Does the Mediterranean Diet Even Exist?, confirms many of the points I have been making about the Mediterranean diet over the last decade. Some of the key points the article makes are:
- 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
- At about the same time, a Minnesota scientist named Ancel Keys, who had been studying the effects of starvation on a group of volunteer subjects, moved on to study the diets of Midwestern businessmen. He found that these well-fed Americans were more prone to heart disease than were men in war-deprived Northern Europe
- “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.
- The diet that Keys and his colleagues invented bore little resemblance to what Mediterraneans actually wanted to eat.
- Today, 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 by the marketing and advertising that is being fostered upon us by the food industry. The real Mediterranean diet existed at a time of post war recovery and was a diet of poverty, limited resources and food restriction.
Olive oil was at best a condiment as was meat, dairy and butter. Fish was consumed in moderation and they consumed large amounts of fruits, veggies, starchy veggies, whole grains and legumes that they prepared fresh. They were also highly active and engaged in hard physical labor.
This diet does not exist anywhere in the world today, including anywhere in the Mediterranean.
So, for your best health, put down the olive oil and skip the hype about the Mediterannean diet. Instead, follow the time honored and proven principles of healthy living and eating.