Several new studies out just recently extol the many benefits of the Mediterranean Diet–a diet rich in fish, grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats from sources like olive oil and nuts, but low in dairy products, red meat, and processed foods. One study found that this diet significantly lowered people’s risk of heart attack and stroke (as compared to a low fat diet). Another study showed that people on a Mediterranean Diet actually saved money and spent less on food overall.
Get healthy and spend less money? Sounds like a miracle to me! But is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
The study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a 30 percent decrease in the risk of stroke or heart attack among participants who were put on a Mediterranean Diet with either extra portions of olive oil or nuts. The participants were identified as being at high risk for cardiovascular disease, and the control group was put on a standard low fat diet.
In a separate study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, researchers taught families using food banks to cook quick and easy plant-based recipes (based on the Mediterranean Diet) in six weeks of cooking classes, and then their grocery receipts were analyzed. Researchers found that grocery spending went down considerably as participants started cooking more plant-based meals, and that participants began eating more varieties of fruits and vegetables.
These seem like slam dunks for the diet, but some researchers are concerned that it may not be that simple.
Dr. Jim Barnard PhD, Professor Emeritus UCLA, is concerned that the takeaways from the Mediterranean Diet are simply to eat more olive oil and fish for weight loss, which is not the case. Therefore, he created four tips outlining what you really need to know about the Mediterranean Diet and provided healthier ways to achieve the weight and health reductions the Mediterranean Diet headlines promised:
4 Things to know about the Mediterranean Diet:
1. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods to lose weight
One benefit the Mediterranean Diet does demonstrate is its focus on whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables and fish – however, these foods combined with high levels of wine, oil and red meat will outweigh the healthy foods incorporated in the diet. Focus on the whole, unprocessed foods to keep your daily fat intake low and keep heart and cardiovascular issues down. Excluding calorie-dense foods like oils and nuts will also lead to a decrease of weight, which was not the case in the Mediterranean Diet study—participants noticed that no weight was lost over a 5-year period on the diet.
2. Keep sodium levels to 1,500mg per day with little or no added sugars and saturated fats for positive health effects
Americans currently take in about 3,500mg of sodium per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and following the Mediterranean Diet will not decrease sodium intake or provide any positive health effects. Instead, follow other diet plans like the Pritikin Program that suggest lowering sodium levels to 1,500mg per day—his change will have long-term health effects on the body.
3. Stick to a True Diet that’s Low in Fat
Although the Mediterranean Diet Study was paired against participants on a “low fat diet,” the fat intake on their supposed low-fat diet was only decreased from 39 percent to 37 percent—in which participants reported no noticeable weight loss. To achieve successful weight loss, limit your daily fat intake to 10–15 percent. Pritikin scientific studies demonstrate that this decrease will dramatically reduce virtually every modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and excessive weight or obesity.
4. Understand portions Before Undergoing Diets
Understanding the portion sizes each diet requires is essential before committing to a specific diet plan. The Mediterranean Diet incorporates high levels of calorie-dense foods such as oils and nuts; however, these foods will not provide any noticeable weight loss unless high intensity activity is also incorporated into the diet and even then, will only positively affect people that are active and close to their ideal weight. For those looking to lose weight, too much oil and other refined fats will likely add, not subtract, to our already plump waistlines, heightening the risk of all sorts of devastating diseases, including this country’s No. 1 killer: heart disease.