The Myth of the Mediterranean Diet

The Myth of the Mediterranean Diet

If there is one diet myth I am beyond tired of hearing about, it’s the so-called health benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

It might sound a bit outrageous at first, but please hear me out on this. I don’t think that the Mediterranean diet is particularly healthy.

It is a little healthier than many other diets, including a standard American diet, but it is not the type of diet that will create radical and positive changes in your health.

Just as an example:

If we look at obesity rates throughout the world, we can see that the countries that are considered to be eating in line with Mediterranean diets have higher obesity rates than countries in Asia, where the diet is based on rice and vegetables.

In 2023, Vietnam had a 2.6% obesity rate compared to 26.3% in Greece. That’s a huge difference. Across the board, we see that the Mediterranean countries have much higher overweight rates than Asian countries.

The Mediterranean diet, characterized by olive oil, nuts, vegetables, fish, and moderate wine consumption, may indeed offer some health benefits, but only to those people eating WORSE diets.

What’s intriguing is that all the advantages attributed to this diet can be attributed to the slightly improved choices made by those adhering to it: increased consumption of vegetables and fruit, reduced intake of meat, and so forth.

If you analyse most actual studies made on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, they say:

• Studies never proved that olive oil is a healthy food in itself; they only proved that replacing other fats (like butter) with olive oil and margarine is slightly better.
• The main message from most studies is to eat more fiber, fruits, vegetables, and exercise.

One of those studies, the Lyon Heart Study, which is the biggest of its kind at the time, studied over 16 countries in the Mediterranean and found that the island of Crete experienced the best health at the time (this was before major industrialization took place on that island).

The truth is that inhabitants of the island of Crete used to be very healthy because:

• They ate lots of fresh produce and some coarse (whole grain) bread.
• They ate beans and fish instead of refined foods and fatty meats.
• Yes, they added some olive oil to their diet (2 tablespoons a day), but burned it off by walking and hiking an average of 9 miles a day!

On the other hand, a study done by T. Colin Campbell showed that in a rural province in China, over a three-year period examination of over 250,000 death certificates, not one death was attributable to cardiovascular disease. If those rural Chinese were eating a Mediterranean diet, they would have experienced hundreds of deaths by comparison.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that it’s not worth it to make some improvements in our diets, but clearly, the Mediterranean diet is not as healthy as we’ve been led to believe. It is only marginally healthier than standard diet advice.