|Posted on March 11, 2017 at 9:25 AM|
Some Americans believe that if we eat fish and vegetables, and guzzle down wine and olive oil, we will live forever -- or at least longer than our American-diet-eating counterparts. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the early 1960s, researchers realized that Cretans (the people living in Crete, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea) lived longer than Americans, and they attributed the extra years to lifestyle, including among other things diet, activity, and social connections. The diet, which became known as the Mediterranean diet, consisted of grains, beans and lentils, fruits, and vegetables, and some dairy products. Other aspects of the beneficial lifestyle have been largely ignored. Cretans of that time ate meat and fish only occasionally, so olives and olive oil were the main sources of fat in their diet. But since researchers made the discovery, people have blown the facts out of proportion, creating the myth that Cretans ate a great deal of olive oil. And Cretans lived long lives, so people assumed that olive oil is a health food. The idea that Cretans ate a lot of olive oil is simply not true.
The diet that we have conveniently created and that we call the Mediterranean diet in some respects differs from the traditional diet of Crete. The revised and more popular version varies, depending on whom you ask about it. Most nutrition experts who advocate for the Mediterranean diet recommend fish, olive oil, red wine, nuts and seeds, eggs, cheese, milk, and vegetables in varying amounts. That's not the same diet that the Cretans ate in the early 1960s, is it? It's as if people transformed this once healthful diet into one that suits their preferences.
The dangers of eating fish, oil of any kind, eggs, cheese, and milk on a regular basis are well documented in the medical literature. These animal products increase inflammation in the body and increase the odds of disease. Large-scale studies show that the popular Mediterranean diet reduces the chance that you’ll develop heart disease by only 13%, 25%, or 30% (Martinez-Gonzalez 2014, Trichopoulou 2003, Estruch 2013).
It is obvious that the traditional Mediterranean diet was based on plant-foods. Although it included some animal products and small quantities of oil, Cretans based their diet on whole plant foods. Part 2 of this article discusses how this healthful low-fat, plant-based diet holds only half of the magic of the Mediterranean lifestyle.