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Mediterranean Diet – Better, Or Just Less Bad?

Written by Wellness Club on February 26, 2013 – 6:07 pm -

… And The Diet Wars Continue …

 

By Nurse Mark

 

With the publication of the latest installment in The Diet Wars, The New England Journal Of Medicine has provided the news media and diet advocates of all persuasions fresh fodder for argument.

So far, the majority of news articles are favoring the Mediterranean Diet as being the salvation for mankind without really explaining why, except to suggest that red meat and dairy products are “limited.”

Some examples of headlines gushing about the newest report are:

  • New Study Says Mediterranean Diet Reduces Heart Disease
  • Whip out the olive oil and toss the butter, french fries, and sugar
  • Mediterranean diet cuts risk of stroke
  • Mediterranean Diet Good for the Heart: Study
  • Mediterranean Diet Fights Heart Woes
  • The Mediterranean Diet: The New Gold Standard?

Wow – how could any person in their right mind not want to give up red meat and dairy?

Well, a very few sources have taken a more balanced look at the report – the Los Angeles Times penned this headline:

Mediterranean diet, with olive oil and nuts, beats low-fat diet

and reported in their article:

In a head-to-head contest, a Mediterranean diet, even drenched in olive oil and studded with nuts, beat a low-fat diet, hands-down, in preventing stroke and heart attack in healthy older subjects at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

They almost got it right!

Yes, this was a head-to-head contest between two versions of a Mediterranean Diet and a low fat diet.

Yes, the two versions of the Mediterranean Diet featured large amounts of olive oil and nuts – both items considered a no-no in “low fat” diets.

Yes, those on the two versions of the Mediterranean Diet fared much better than those on the low fat diet.

No, the participants in the study were not “healthy older subjects.”

According to the authors of the study “Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet” which was published February 25, 2013 in the New England Journal Of Medicine the subjects did not have cardiovascular disease, but they were at high risk for developing cardiovascular disease:

Eligible participants were men (55 to 80 years of age) and women (60 to 80 years of age) with no cardiovascular disease at enrollment, who had either type 2 diabetes mellitus or at least three of the following major risk factors: smoking, hypertension, elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, overweight or obesity, or a family history of premature coronary heart disease.

Here’s my take on this report:

The “Mediterranean Diet” – a true “Mediterranean Diet” – will always win out over a “low fat diet,” and this report offers further evidence of that.

Indeed, the authors of the study say the same in their conclusion:

Among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented
with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular
events.

But is the “Mediterranean Diet” really the “best” diet to follow?

Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on what you are calling a “Mediterranean Diet.”

I wrote about this a while back in a HealthBeat News article titled The Mediterranean Diet – Is It All It Claims To Be?

That article is worth a timely re-read since we are going to be bombarded with popular news media reports on this subject over the next little while.

Here is some of what I had to say in that HealthBeat News article:

I cringe whenever I hear someone tell me that they are “on the Mediterranean diet” because it allows them to eat “lots of pasta and couscous and hummus on pita and bread dipped in olive oil” and drink lots of wine – though they often qualify that by saying they’ll choose white wine “because it has fewer calories.”

Feeling pious because they are eating copious salads and fruits and low-fat foods, these people invariably have simply modified their traditional western diet to include parts of what they believe might be Mediterranean cuisine (the parts that appeal to them, like pasta, bread, hummus, rice..) and they end up with a “diet” that is neither particularly healthy nor very nutritious.

So, the bottom line. Is the Mediterranean diet really all it’s cracked up to be?

For someone willing to adopt the Mediterranean diet as the lifestyle that it really is – that is, a highly physically active lifestyle of daily labor, meals of predominantly locally-grown and minimally processed foods, avoidance of processed foods, convenience foods, concentrated sugars, additives, preservatives, soft drinks and “snack foods”, and replacement of butter and processed oils and fats with minimally processed olive oil the answer is a resounding “yes” – the Mediterranean diet  as a “lifestyle” is indeed healthy.

For someone who simply wants to “cherry pick” the attractive parts of Mediterranean cuisine such as pasta, rice, hummus, baklava, and sweet breads and then add them to a junk food filled western diet of sodas, processed foods, concentrated carbohydrates, and trans-fatty fast food while continuing to live a sedentary lifestyle the answer is “no” – it is simply a self-deluding recipe for health disaster.

So, the take-home messages?

Don’t be fooled – low fat diets are not healthy!

Re-Read The Mediterranean Diet – Is It All It Claims To Be? so that you know what the Mediterranean Diet is – and what it isn’t.

Take the headlines you see in the popular media with a grain of salt – they may have an agenda of their own, or may be just sloppy in their reporting. Find the original study and read it.

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