Friday, August 15, 2014
The Truth About The Mediterranean Diet
The Cretan diet that gave rise to the interest in the so-called Mediterranean diet was not high in fat, fish, feta, or Greek yogurt as advertised or implied by advertisers. It was high in bread, beans, potatoes, vegetables, and fruits and for adult men derived only ~7 percent of energy from all animal products.
Men in the general Mediterranean consumed almost twice as much fish as the men in Crete but had a coronary heart disease mortality rate 20 times higher than Cretan men. Less than 4% of the Cretan men's diet consisted of fish. That data does not provide any support for the idea that fish consumption was responsible in any degree for the very low coronary heart disease mortality rate in Crete.
Meanwhile, men in Crete consumed almost 4 times as much bread (and therefore, wheat) as men in the U.S. cohort of the Seven Countries study; and men in the U.S. consumed 4 times as much meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products than men in Crete. Yet the men in the U.S. had a heart disease death rate about 57 times that of the men in Crete. This data does not support claims that wheat causes heart disease (it was a large part of the protective Cretan diet) nor claims that eating more low-carbohydrate animal products protects against heart disease.
Cretans did not consume large amounts of feta cheese or "Greek yoghurt" either. Only about 3% of their calories came from dairy products. That amounts to about one-half cup of yoghurt or milk, or about one-half ounce of cheese, daily, for a man consuming 2500 kcal daily.
In addition, the Cretans who had a low risk of heart disease did not consume large amounts of olive oil nor a diet providing 40% of energy as fat as commonly claimed. In fact, a large portion of Cretans followed Greek Orthodox fasting rituals which prescribed avoidance of olive oil on fasting days amounting to at least half the days of the year (180 to 200 days).
The commercialized mythical Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, feta cheese, yoghurt and fish crosses the general Mediterranean diet and the Western diet, both of which supported high rates of cardiovascular disease – 20 to 57 time that of Cretan men – when Cretan men had the lowest recorded rate. The lowest rate of heart disease death was found among the men who ate the least animal products and got 93% of their calories from a primarily whole foods plant based diet with small amounts of added olive oil.