Ten Myths About the Mediterranean Diet

Following a Mediterranean lifestyle definitely offers many benefits, such as better health, flavorful food, and lots of fun, without depriving you. However, not everything you’ve heard about this way of life is necessarily true. Proclamations that you can eat huge, rich meals and drink tons of wine are a little misleading. Here are some of the myths you may have heard.

1

People who live in the Mediterranean are all healthy.

The Mediterranean coast covers a large region including parts of Africa, Morocco, Greece, Turkey, France, and Italy, 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 is inspired by the Greek island of Crete and other areas of Greece, plus Spain, Morocco, and southern Italy.

2

You can eat as much cheese as you want.

One misconception about the Mediterranean diet is that you can eat as much cheese as your heart (or stomach) desires. Unfortunately, this myth isn’t true. Eating too much cheese can add up in unwanted calories and saturated fats. People in certain regions of the Mediterranean do consume large amounts of cheese, but these regions don’t share in the same health benefits that the more rural areas this diet is centered on do.

3

Drinking as much wine as you want is heart healthy.

Wine certainly does have unique health benefits for your heart. However, drinking in moderation is the key. Residents on the Mediterranean coast don’t actually drink as much alcohol as you may think. Enjoying a glass of wine with dinner is common, but downing two to three glasses is not.

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 a few times a week.

4

You can eat desserts regularly and still manage your weight.

Eating too many desserts isn’t good for your midsection or your overall weight. People of the Mediterranean coast primarily eat a diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, and not every meal includes a luxurious dessert. The region does offer some of the most delicious traditional desserts, such as baklava, but these dishes are served for special occasions (such as holidays or weddings) maybe once or twice a year.

For the most part, Mediterranean folks eat fruit for dessert or enjoy low-calorie cookies such as biscotti. Portion sizes of these desserts are also smaller than you may be used to; one to two biscotti is plenty.

5

Eating large bowls of pasta with bread is totally fine.

Yes, Italians in particular eat a lot of pasta, but not in the type of 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. A slice of bread (as in one slice) often joins the meal, for a total of two to three starch servings for that meal.

6

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 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. That’s a relief, right?

However, you’re not off the hook on physical activity entirely. 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 in a car. A more convenient life means you have to seek out ways to get exercise each and every day.

7

The diet can't be healthy because it contains so much fat.

People on the Mediterranean coast do eat more fat than is recommended in the United States, but that doesn’t mean their diet is considered high-fat. The average fat intake in the Mediterranean is about 35 percent of daily calories, and the average U.S. intake is 36 percent.

The key to Mediterranean diet is the type of fat consumed. Folks in the Mediterranean region eat more heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, such as those in olive oil and avocadoes, than they do saturated fats found in meats, butter, and dairy.

8

The health benefits are all about the diet.

Diet (that is, a way of eating) is a key contributor to the health benefits prominent in certain regions of the Mediterranean coast, but it isn’t the only contributor. Physical activity, stress management, rest and play, and proper vitamin D levels from ample sunshine are also important components.

A combination of all these factors is likely what results in the health benefits seen by researchers. After all, eating a healthy diet, getting physical activity, and managing your stress are still the most common recommendations for engaging in any healthy lifestyle.

9

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.

10

You can continue a busy life and fully adopt a Mediterranean diet.

Everything about the Mediterranean lifestyle is about slowing down: taking time to choose your foods, cook them, and have a hearty meal with your family; spending time with your loved ones; and giving yourself plenty of time for rest and play.

You only get 24 hours in a day, so to provide all this time for food, activity, community, and rest, you may have to sacrifice a busy work life. If that is impossible, don’t fret! Make a goal to adopt a few Mediterranean lifestyle choices. Even a few small changes can still make a big impact on your overall health and well-being.

   
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