The “Mediterranean Diet” is widely, and scientifically, associated with excellent health. But dunking your bread in olive oil before eating a humongous plate of double-sausage, double-cheese lasagna is not a Mediterranean Diet.
The idea for the Mediterranean Diet started with the Seven Countries Study. In the 1950s, Dr. Ancel Keys traveled the world looking for populations that had varying risks of heart disease and then studied their diets, exercise habits, and cholesterol levels.
Crete was among the countries with the best health, greatest longevity, and best risk markers. So, when you think Mediterranean Diet, think of the diet eaten on the island of Crete some 60 years ago. Fish, olives, whole grains, fruits and vegetables from the garden. Not too much, eaten preferably with family and friends, and certainly without a television blaring in the background.
The best diet markers of excellent health in the 100,000 strong Nurses’ Health Study and the 100,000 strong Physicians Health Study help us identify a modern “Mediterranean Diet."
So when I say, “Eat a Mediterranean Diet,” I mean you should eat:
- At least five colorful fruits and vegetables every day. OJ for breakfast and berries on your cereal, a salad at lunch is usually two, an apple for snack, veggie with dinner is six. Have a piece of blueberry pie for dessert and you are at seven—just eat the berries and leave the crust.
- One or two whole grains every day. Oatmeal, wheaties, shredded wheat, Cherrios, whole wheat bread for your sandwich, quinoa for dinner.
- Nuts. Yes nuts. A handful or two every day. Lowers heart disease by 30 percent.
- Ocean fish a couple of times a week. Salmon, tuna, sardines. Tilapia and cat fish just don’t have much omega-3.
- Use olive and canola oil and avoid saturated fats (e.g., the white fat on a steak). The healthiest diets get about a third of their calories from fat. (Stay tuned, I’ll blog about the evils of the low fat diets soon.)
- And some, but not too much, alcohol. This means a glass of wine or two.
A Mediterranean Diet does not require perfection. In my opinion (not scientifically studied that I know of), the best diet includes the above foods because their provide a marvelous package of health-promoting nutrients. And once you eat all the good stuff, you can indulge moderately without much guilt.