What is the Mediterranean Diet? —Really

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The Mayo Clinic’s version of the Mediterranean Diet may not be what Mediterranean’s really eat!

The Mediterranean diet was originally discovered from comparing different diet regimens around the world in the 1950s, and the researchers found that those people living around the Mediterranean had a lower risk of heart disease and related illness.  The researchers then described the Mediterranean diet and advised Americans to follow this way of eating. It has been studied over and over again and it is still true that a Mediterranean diet is healthy for Americans.  Doctors glibly tell patients you should eat a Mediterranean diet, but what really is the Mediterranean Diet?

I know what we are taught to eat the Mediterranean diet, however what Mayo Clinic describes as the Mediterranean diet, is not what I experience when I go to Italy and Greece.  Let me start with what the Mayo Clinic lists as components of the Mediterranean diet.

They say that we should eat:

  • primarily vegetables, beans and whole grains
  • Eat fish twice a week
  • Use olive Oil instead of butter
  • Serve fresh fruit for dessert.

However here is what I observe of the Mediterranean diet that is really what Mediterranean people eat:

  • Main courses generally include Fish, meat like lamb, beef, veal, and pork-they are NOT vegan!
  • Fresh vegetables are included but “beans” are not a primary source of protein, however milk products, fish and meat are!
  • Italians and Greeks do eat fish at least twice a week if they are on the coast, but not so in the countryside, or northern part of these countries.
  • Pasta is a healthy carb and is made of semolina flour is generally served at every meal—but in much smaller portions than we eat.
  • Homemade bread is served at every meal.
  • Olive oil and Balsamic vinegar is generally used on bread instead of butter or margarine, however they use a lot of both olive oil and butter in their sauces and cooking.
  • Desserts are usually sweet and made with creams or milk products and flour. They use honey and sugar to sweeten the desserts, and they do not just serve desserts consisting of fruit.

The main difference between how we eat and how they eat would not be possible for most Americans because it takes so much time, and most of us do not live in an area of the country that is warm enough to grow vegetables and fruit during the majority of the year!  The following differences in their diet that actually make a healthy difference are as follows:

  • Their portions are less than half the size of ours!
  • They shop every day, so they don’t eat preservatives which are added to American food to increase shelf life.
  • They make their own bread and pasta fresh, also without additives.
  • They have a garden next to their house and because of the climate they are able to eat fresh vegetables and fruit throughout the year….most of Americans don’t live in a warm climate all year round.
  • They walk everywhere! They get exercise just visiting their neighbors..everyone takes a walk after dinner. There are fewer cars used for getting places. They also live in smaller communities that are walking distance from everything they need.
  • Nuts (Almonds, pine nuts) are integral to their diets, as a good form of protein
  • One person in the family has the job of feeding everyone in the extended family. It is her job to shop and cook and grow vegetables for the whole family.
  • Families come home for lunch and eat their heaviest meal at lunch so they can walk it or exercise it off!
  • Exercise is key to the Mediterranean diet!
  • Every day they eat extra virgin olive oil…tablespoons of it, and it is known to lower the risk of heart disease.
  • Fast food, junk food, is available only in the cities and is not stocked except for Americans.
  • Candy is an extravagance and usually has nuts or honey or other sweeteners but not white sugar or artificial sweeteners.

So….. like most great ideas, eating like a Mediterranean when you live in America is not practical for everyone and is not plant based…it is lean meat, fish, milk products, olive oil and cheese based. Not sure why they added beans…have never seen beans on the menu for either country I have traveled to, Italy and Greece several times each, so the Mayo Clinic’s version of Mediterranean Diet is not what Mediterranean’s really eat!

I believe for a person to actually be able to follow this diet in the US you can change some of your habits, but it is nearly impossible to recreate their society and eating habits.  Try this: Cook with olive oil instead of other vegetable oils, put olive oil on your salads or drink a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil daily to get a portion of the M. Diet.  We can eat the same types of food but unless we go back to baking our own bread and hand making our pasta, cultivating a garden next to each house and apartment, move in with our grandparents so they can cook for us, and give up our cars in favor of walking we cannot recreate that diet here in the US, but we can embrace some of the achievable goals of that diet.

The goals of a Mediterranean diet can be achieved in a different way in the US. We can go back to exercises in our schools and work out (exercise) daily as adults.

We can also attempt to clear out all processed foods from our homes and begin to eat fresh vegetables and fruit daily and serve fish 2-3 times a week.  Shopping at a kosher deli would help you get healthy fresh bread without additives and grass-fed beef that does not have antibiotics and grain added to their feed. As for drinks you’ll have to clear out all canned soda, and replace it with filtered water, coffee, or tea. Sugar is dangerous in all forms and candy and baked goodies should be kept to a minimum.   Buying local eggs are much healthier than those in the grocery store.  Changing our desserts to fruit and or yogurt or plain ice cream without additives, especially soy.  These changes can save your life and the lives of your family, but it takes everyone accepting the new parameters of eating.  Remember that food is enjoyable, but it is primarily fuel for our mind and body’s energy so we can repair of our bodies and live a long, full life.

This Health cast was written and presented by Dr. Kathy Maupin, M.D., Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Expert and Author. www.BioBalanceHealth.com • (314) 993-0963. Please subscribe to our YouTube channel and please check “ Like “.  Follow us on Facebook and Instagram at BioBalanceHealth.

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