Six Myths about the Mediterranean Diet

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Following a Mediterranean lifestyle definitely offers many benefits, such as better health and flavorful food. However, not everything you've heard about this way of life is necessarily true. Proclamations that you can eat huge, rich meals and drink gallons of wine are a little misleading. It's time to debunk some of the myths so that you make sure you stay on the right track.

Myth 1: All people who live in the Mediterranean are healthy

The Mediterranean coast covers a large region, including Morocco, Greece, Turkey, France, Italy, and parts of northern Africa, just to name a few. Not all countries or all regions practice the same healthy habits. For instance, people in northern Italy more commonly use lard and butter in cooking, which tips their diet's balance toward more saturated fats than you see in southern Italy, where people primarily use olive oil.

In general, the Mediterranean lifestyle that promotes better health is inspired by the Greek island of Crete and other areas of Greece, plus Spain, Morocco, and southern Italy.

Myth 2: You can eat as much cheese as you want

Eating too much cheese can add up in unwanted calories and saturated fats. Consuming cheese is a common Mediterranean practice, but you want to do so in a moderate way. Using strong-flavored cheeses such as feta or goat cheese helps you get a lot of flavor while using much less cheese.

Myth 3: Drinking as much wine as you want is heart healthy

Wine certainly does have unique health benefits for your heart, but drinking in moderation is the key. Frequently drinking more than one to two glasses of wine can actually be bad for your heart (not to mention your decision-making). To stay on the healthy side of the fence, enjoy a glass of wine with your meal once a day (if your doctor approves) — and maybe hide the karaoke machine.

[Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/HultonArchive]
Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/HultonArchive

Myth 4: Eating large bowls of pasta with bread is totally fine

The Mediterranean diet conjures up thoughts of Italian cooking and pasta, pasta, pasta! And what's pasta without bread to soak up all that sauce? Italians in particular eat a lot of pasta, but not in the portion sizes that Americans are accustomed to. In the Mediterranean, pasta is typically a side dish with about a 1/2-cup to 1-cup serving size. Pasta isn't the stand-alone dish; instead, people have salads, meat sides, and vegetable sides to fill their plates. One slice of bread often joins the meal, for a total of two to three starch servings for that meal.

Myth 5: You don't have to go to the gym

This one is technically true, but part of the mindset behind it needs debunking. People who lived on the Mediterranean coast 50 or 60 years ago likely weren't hitting the gym for exercise, so no, you don't specifically have to drag yourself to the gym every day to model their lifestyle. However, you're not off the hook on physical activity. These people didn't need a workout because they were much more active in daily life, performing manual work and walking where they needed to go rather than driving everywhere. A more convenient life means you have to seek out ways to get exercise each and every day.

Myth 6: People from the Mediterranean eat huge meals and never gain weight

Maintaining weight in spite of eating large meals is sometimes possible for the people of this region, but the catch is that they eat many small servings of low-calorie foods rather than large servings of high-calorie foods — that is, loads of vegetables (both raw and cooked) and small portions of meats, grains, and legumes. The important point is the make-up of the meal, not the size. You can't eat just anything at a large meal, even on the Mediterranean diet. The meal has to have the right balance of foods and still come in at a relatively low calorie level.


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