You probably have heard about the Mediterranean diet. Further, you’ve likely heard a lot of good things about this diet; most people will agree that the Mediterranean diet is a healthier way to eat then our American diet, and you would be right. Although, what most of us consider to be the Mediterranean diet isn’t exactly so, further this also differs from what most researcher’s consider to be the Mediterranean diet (insert mystery music soundtrack). With that said, we have a couple of different diets people may be referring to when discussing the Mediterranean diet: we have the American version, the researcher version, and god bless their soul, the diet that people who live in the Mediterranean are actually eating.
The American version of the Mediterranean diet typically has excessive portions- generally, a carb overload. Canadians typically think of pizza and pastas as Mediterranean foods however our versions of these dishes typically contain red meats, processed cheeses and way too much carbs!
The researchers version of the Mediterranean diet is typically portion controlled, includes whole grains and nuts in addition to plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, and unsaturated fats. Furthermore, it has been proven to be associated with cardiovascular health.
Then we have the inhabitants of the geographical region for which the diet is named after (they are all wondering why people keep talking about them). If you go to the Mediterranean, first of all, good for you! And secondly, when you eat out what do you notice about their dishes? Depending on where you go you may notice that the portion sizes may be smaller then the American plates, further if larger dishes are served they are typically considered to be sharing platters/ plates (for example in Italy), OR touristy areas may have actually adapted plate sizes to please hungry Americans.
People also often confuse the Mediterranean diet of being high in nuts and whole grains… you don’t have to cross the entire Mediterranean to know that typically white breads, potatoes, pastas and white rice are often served as carbohydrates. Furthermore, gallons of honey and phyllo pastry later, baklava is one of the few Mediterranean dishes that authentically contains nuts. Moreover, I didn’t bring my measuring cups, however, I’m not sure most European’s drink alcohol in ‘moderation’- whatever that means (In Canada 1 standard drink a day if you are a women and 2 if you are male is considered the maximum you should have if you want to be in the low-risk category).
You may be thinking then, why do Mediterranean folk have a lower incidence of heart disease while not following the researcher’s Mediterranean diet guidelines? For example, the French are known for eating significant amounts of foods high in saturated fats (cheese, duck, butter sauces), yet have a low incidence of coronary heart disease- this is called the French Paradox. Researchers suggest that these findings could be for a number of reasons including the synergistic affect of overall lifestyle differences including possibly, Europeans are more physically active, and their entire diets are healthier overall, and the red wine consumption helps minimize the negative affects the saturated fats have on the heart and so forth.
If you’re a Canadian or American however, my condolences, the bottom line still is: eat more fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and less saturated fat… this is the same message that has been expressed for years about healthy eating, but we’re doing it wrong.
Elis Halenko, R.D.
Posts inspired by the team at Platinum Health & Wellness.