What Makes the Mediterranean Diet Healthful?


    • The Mediterranean people, especially those living on the island of Crete, were noticeably lean and physically healthy, not known to have suffered from heart diseases.
    • The Cretans’ diet used to consist mainly of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, and some fish.
    • More than 40% of their caloric consumption is from olive oil.

The Mediterranean diet is actually far from being a hype diet, as what many people perceive it to be. In truth, it’s an eating habit that promotes a healthy lifestyle. And, its key factor is high consumption of plant-based foods.

The composition of the Mediterranean diet

In the 1950s, the inhabitants of the Mediterranean region, particularly those living on the island of Crete, were noticeably lean. And, you can hardly hear of news that someone from there was suffering from heart disease. The secret of their good health was primarily attributed to their diet.

Although more than 40 percent of the Cretans’ caloric consumption came from olive oil¹, their diet was heavily composed of plant-based foods. They ate whole grains, nuts, beans, fresh vegetables, fruits, and some fish. Generally, their saturated fat consumption was only less than 6 percent of their total fat intake in comparison to the amount of plant-based foods they ate.

In other words, it’s the high consumption of plant-based foods that make the Mediterranean diet healthful. Therefore, it’s no surprise that this kind of eating habit offers numerous health benefits, such as lower risks of cognitive disease, heart condition, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

Another thing noteworthy among the Cretans in the 1950s: they actively engaged themselves in regular physical activities back then. They worked hard in the fields, often pushing plow or other farm equipment. And, they walked about 9 miles each day.

Sadly, most of the Cretans have not stuck to their original diet anymore. Their consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans has dropped even as they maintain their consumption of olive oil. High energy dense foods, including meat, cheese, and other foods heavily-laden with oil have now become their new staples. Their physical activities have also considerably lessened. Thus, it’s not surprising anymore to know that many Cretans today suffer from heart disease. And, based on statistics, more than half of their population are overweight.

It’s important to note that the key to the success of the Mediterranean diet is in the high consumption of plant-based foods, and not due to olive oil. In truth, olive oil is one of the most fattening, calorically dense foods on earth. It contains 4,020 calories per pound compared to butter which packs only 3,200 calories per pound. Olive oil contains 14 percent saturated fat. As you consume more oil, you increase the amount of artery-clogging saturated fat in your body.

If you ’re attempting to lose weight, consuming olive oil is not a good idea at all. Cooking your food in oil only makes your attempt at losing weight less effective. When you are overweight, oil adds fat to your plump waistline, increasing your risk of contracting diseases like heart attack and diabetes.

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¹Fuhrman, Joel, M.D. Eat to Live. Little, Brown and Company. January 2003

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