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Mediterranean diet isn't what you think (Part 2)

Posted on May 28, 2017 at 7:45 AM

Part one of this article talks about how we have changed the menu of the Mediterranean diet from what it was in Crete in the 1960s. We have exaggerated the suggested quantities of oil, fish, and wine, yet still call it healthy. Made up mostly of grains, beans and lentils, fruits, and vegetables, the traditional Mediterranean diet (the one Cretans ate in the 1960s) included only small portions of fish, dairy products, and olive oil, and because it was low in saturated fat, animal protein, and processed oils, it offered protection against heart disease. The newer and more popular version offers only meager protection against heart disease. 

What most popular Mediterranean diet advocates fail to recognize about the traditional Mediterranean diet is that the health-giving benefits came not only from the food; they came also from habitual fasting. Ninety-eight percent of people who lived in Crete in the 1960s were devout Greek Orthodox Christians who followed strict rules regarding fasting, a religious obligation in Eastern Orthodox religions.

The Greek Orthodox fasting calendar above shows what foods can be eaten each day throughout the year. Blue, yellow, and purple shading indicates a restriction of food intake. Yellow represents strict fasting days (total abstinence from meat, fish, oil, eggs, dairy, and wine), purple represents routine fasting days (total abstinence from meat, fish, dairy, and eggs), and blue represents moderate fasting (total abstinence from meat). The days indicated in red are feast days when food is not restricted. There are more than 180 fast days noted on the Orthodox Christian calendar. The fasting calendar changes slightly each year, but it always consists of 180-200 fasting days every year.

More than half of the days of the year, Cretans were restricted from eating the exact foods that we allow generous amounts of -- the ones that contribute to heart disease. The health benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet come from eating a plant-based diet. Coupled with a good amount of physical activity and strong community relationships, the plant-based diet -- not the popular Mediterranean diet -- prevents heart disease. 

Categories: Food, Reversing diabetes, Lifestyle

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