It has been ranked as the healthiest diet on the planet – but only if you do it right. Here are a few Mediterranean Diet myths to be aware of…
The Mediterranean Diet continues to be one of the most well-reviewed diets around – in fact, several studies have rated it as “the healthiest diet on the planet,” but there are plenty of misunderstandings out there about this method of eating.
The so-called Mediterranean Diet is actually based on the eating habits of a number of different countries and regions near the Mediterranean Sea, including Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and France. While each region has its own specific food culture, each cuisine also shares some things in common, notably, “the consumption of fresh, seasonal, whole foods featuring vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, herbs and spices; the predominate use of extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter, margarine, or vegetable oils; moderate amounts of seafood and poultry; and the moderate consumption of red wine.”
The Mediterranean diet also typically avoids processed foods as well as sugar, artificial sweeteners and flavors, and large amounts of red meats.
One of the reasons this method of eating has proven so popular and successful is its flexibility. You can easily combine with vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, or ketogenic eating plans, and it also works well with intermittent fasting and blood sugar regulation.
The diet has also been touted for its benefits for weight management, improved brain function and longevity, and heart disease risk reduction.
However, although it’s very versatile, there are also some myths and misunderstandings about the Mediterranean diet that can make it less effective at achieving these benefits. Here are a few myths to be aware of in order to maximize the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet:
MYTH #1. YOU CAN EAT ALL THE HEALTHY FOOD YOU WANT
There’s no need to put a hard limit on daily servings of vegetables (you won’t overdo it because you’ll naturally fill up on fiber), but it is possible, for instance, to overeat walnuts or almond butter, or use too much olive oil, particularly if you’re dipping pieces of bread into it.
MYTH #2. EATING MEDITERRANEAN MEANS EATING PASTA, BREAD AND PIZZA
You can easily overdo the portion size, even with whole grains. When you see grains and cereals on the Mediterranean diet, this doesn’t mean a giant platter of pasta, unlimited bread (even if it’s organic and whole grain), or bowls of rice (even if it’s brown rice). It’s important to control your portions of grains and cereals, and as you’ll read in a moment, of all the food components listed in the Mediterranean diet, whole grains provide the least health benefit.
Further, when you grind a grain into flour, such as bread, that processed grain has a much higher glycemic load (sugar load) than the same amount of whole grain. If we want healthy blood sugar control, we all need to limit or avoid even whole grain products that are processed into flour—such as bread, crackers, cake, and pancakes.
MYTH #3. EATING SEAFOOD ON OCCASION WILL BENEFIT YOUR HEART
Eating fish merely a few times a month won’t yield the disease-fighting benefits of the Mediterranean diet, particularly for the heart and brain. Because of the benefits from consuming long chain omega-3 fats that are found only in seafood, aim to eat seafood at least twice a week–preferably three to five times per week. Seafood includes fish, shellfish, and seaweed.
If you are vegetarian, or avoid fish and shellfish for other reasons, plan to either eat seaweed several times per week, as in a cup portion of seaweed salad, or take a seaweed DHA supplement daily.
MYTH #4. ALL CHEESES (AND YOGURTS) ARE CREATED EQUAL
Treating pasteurized cheese as a go-to food–compared, for example, with raw, probiotic-rich and vitamin K2-loaded camembert–is a mistake. The same goes for yogurt and kefir. Many of my patients are shocked when I explain that fruit-flavored yogurt has more sugar than ice cream. As with so many components of the Mediterranean diet, when choosing your foods, simple and unsweetened is best.
If you avoid dairy products, you still need some source of probiotic food source, which can easily be obtained by using coconut yogurt sources, and other pickled foods, such as sauerkraut, olives, capers, and Asian foods such as miso, kimchi, and kombucha.
MYTH #5. YOU CAN SKIP THE BEANS
Don’t miss out on this fiber-packed superfood that is one of the best foods for controlling blood sugar, and it’s the #1 all-time top food for blocking disease-causing oxidation. They are also loaded with fiber, protein, B vitamins, and calcium. In Mediterranean cuisine, beans are the healthy foundation for countless meals and are used often as a side dish as well.
However, 10% of people appear to be lectin intolerant–they develop major gastrointestinal symptoms when they consume beans. The process of soaking (so called sprouting) appears to help, but if you have a lectin intolerance, just like any food intolerance, then avoid beans.
MYTH #6. YOU CAN USE EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL FOR ALL YOUR COOKING NEEDS
Don’t use extra-virgin olive oil for high-heat cooking, or even medium-high heat. Once it reaches 400ºF–its smoke point, the maximum temperature it can reach before it breaks down and becomes a damaged fat–extra-virgin olive oil starts losing nutritional value, not to mention its complex and delicate flavors. For medium-high heat cooking, use avocado and/or almond oil instead.
Save flavorful extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling over foods, making dressings, and for low or medium heat cooking.
Is the Mediterranean Diet the Best Diet on the Planet?
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