Debunking the Mediterranean Diet
Over the years, the Mediterranean Diet has been in and out of the spotlight and most commonly referred to as a “plant-based,” “heart healthy” diet. When you think “Mediterranean,” you may think of bowls of pasta, bottles of red wine, and perhaps a gondola ride through Venice. What you may not know, is the diet is full of beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants, heart-healthy fats, and fiber. And although we may like it to be, it is not some miracle diet that consists of endless bowls of pasta and glasses of red wine. If you are interested in eating healthier this year, here is what you should know about the Mediterranean Diet:
The Mediterranean Diet is not simply some fad diet. It is a lifestyle that includes many components beyond the food groups. The Mediterranean Diet is based on the eating practices of the Mediterranean region, including but not limited to France, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece. People in this region are known to appreciate the quality of their food, so they tend to eat whole foods, and harvest their own foods and/or buy produce that is fresh and local. They also reserve time each day to prepare and then sit down and savor their meals with family, friends or neighbors. This practice helps them eat more mindfully and avoid things like eating on-the-go or purchasing take-out. In this lifestyle food is a way of life, not just a meal.
Another common misconception about the diet is associated with the term “plant-based.” This term does not mean "meat free." It simply refers to increasing the intake of plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, etc.) by incorporating them at most meals and snacks. It also refers to consuming meat in moderation, which could mean limiting meat consumption to two to three times per month while increasing seafood consumption.
Additionally, pasta is NOT the staple of this diet plan. The diet is comprised of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and healthy fats. The true staples are greens, legumes, olives, olive oil, garlic and unprocessed grains. Although it is not a staple, pasta can be incorporated into the diet in moderation.
Wine intake is also misunderstood. Consuming one glass of red wine per day is a common practice in the Mediterranean diet, however the key word is ONE. Although a glass of red wine per day has been linked to possible health benefits, that doesn’t mean drinking a bottle of wine a day will provide more benefits. In fact, the CDC recommends limiting intake to one glass (five ounces) per day for women and two glasses (ten ounces) per day for men regardless of the diet you keep.
Bottom line: The Mediterranean Diet is more than just a diet; it’s a lifestyle that promotes mindful eating of whole, heart-healthy and delicious foods. And while it doesn’t promote excess drinking or carbohydrate loading, it does, of course, leave room for a little pasta and wine.
Written by: Riley Ahern, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern.