The Mediterranean Diet: Facts and Myths

The Mediterranean Diet: Facts and Myths

The Mediterranean Diet: Facts and Myths

One of the challenges with the Mediterranean diet has always been knowing exactly how it works and why it’s so good for us.

And over the years, the theories have changed an awful lot – resulting in a lot of misinformation, myths and rumors. In this chapter we’re going to address some of those and in doing so, we’ll also find out how the Mediterranean diet might work.

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Fact or Myth: Red Wine is Good for You?

One of the things you might hear a lot of when researching the Mediterranean diet yourself, is that red wine is ‘good for you’ and can actually increase your lifespan.

This might come as something of a surprise, seeing as alcohol is generally considered to be bad for us as it kills brain cells, hurts the liver and makes us gain weight.Fact or myth

So what’s going on? Is this a myth or a fact?

As is so often the case, the answer is that it’s a bit of both.

You see, one of the early theories as to why people eating the Mediterranean diet lived so long, was that they were getting a substance called ‘resveratrol’ from the high quantities of red wine they drank.

Resveratrol is found in red grapes and is a very powerful antioxidant meaning that it can combat the free radicals and oxidation that leads to cell damage and in some cases cancer and ageing.

At the same time though, resveratrol also has the ability to improve the function of mitochondria – the tiny ‘energy plants’ found in the cells that allow the body to use ATP (ATP is a high-energy molecule found in every cell. Its job is to store and supply the cell with needed energy) for power movements and crucial bodily functions. This actually makes the cells more efficient, which in turn reduces the damage caused by oxidants even further.

Studies found that mice given resveratrol in studies enjoy longer lifespans and are less likely to suffer from cancer and a range of other conditions.

So should you start drinking a lot of wine?

This is still up for debate. Unfortunately, the amount of resveratrol given to those mice in studies is much higher (relative to their body size) than we could safely get from wine alone.

Therefore, there’s no evidence that drinking red wine in normal quantities would have significant effects on lifespan in humans.

But then again, you actually need a lower ratio of active ingredients as you scale up body size in order to see the same effects in humans – so this is still open for debate.

Alcohol itself is still very bad for you too – but it can potentially have some benefits. For example, research shows that around the world centenarians (people who have lived to over 100) include a statistically high proportion of people who drank a small amount of alcohol every day.

The current theory is that alcohol can actually help to relax the heart (it is a depressant) and that this can thereby help to reduce the likelihood of heart disease or stroke.

So a small glass of red wine with dinner on a semi-regular basis will likely do some good. But don’t overindulge!

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Fact or Myth: Saturated Fat is Also Good for You?

What originally stood out to researchers as strange when they looked at the effects of the Mediterranean diet was that it was able to be supportive of good heart health despite the large amounts of oil and cheese involved.

These are both examples of saturated fats – and for a long time it was believed that saturated fats were very bad for heart health. The thought was that saturated fats would lead to an increase in cholesterol and that this in turn would make a heart attack or stroke more likely.

This was the stance of most health experts for a long time and was even the basis of many diet plans. If you were to buy a ‘diet’ version of your favorite sandwich for instance, then you would likely find that it was simply the same sandwich but without the fat.

But more recent research shows us that fats actually aren’t the culprit when it comes to heart problems – and might not even be that bad for losing weight either! They only raise the good kind of cholesterol (HDL) and they are not at all associated with heart disease!

Fats are also very important for the absorption of nutrients and also happen to be very nutritious and good for you.

And as though all this wasn’t enough reason to start eating more fats in your diet, it’s may also be the case that fats help to prevent weight gain. That’s because the body absorbs energy from fats much more slowly than it absorbs energy from carbohydrates.

If you consume bread or pasta for instance, then the body gets a sudden spike in glucose which triggers the release of insulin. That insulin then causes the sugar to be absorbed by the body, where it gets stored as fat in a process called ‘lipogenesis’. At this point, you then have low blood sugar and find yourself feeling hungry.

When you eat fats however, these are digested much more slowly. This sits in the stomach making you feel fuller and means that the sugar is released at a steadier rate into the blood stream. In fact, even if you eat lots of carbs; eating fats as well will mean they are slower to get absorbed.

So while ‘fat free’ foods might have lower calories, they leave you feeling hungry and make you want to eat more afterward! The body just isn’t getting any sustenance and that leaves you craving more. On the other hand, you can eat considerably less on a Mediterranean diet and feel a lot fuller and more satiated for a lot longer.

Fact or Myth: You Can Eat as Much Cheese as You Want?

And it’s for these reasons that many people on a Mediterranean diet will also eat a lot of cheese. Of course this is also very in-keeping with the way Italians, Greeks and the French all eat.

Cheese will keep you full, provide all the benefits we discussed and also supply you with ample calcium and various other benefits.mediterranean diet Fact or myth

But can you indulge as much as you want?

Unfortunately not. And the same goes for olive oil – despite it having a ton of benefits.

The problem with saturated fats is that they are still calorific. To be precise, a gram of carbs or protein will contain 4 calories. Conversely, a gram of fat contains 9 calories. So if you eat tons of cheese and oil, you will still gain weight.

Calorie counting is not necessarily a requirement of a diet if you are eating healthy and sensibly. But nevertheless, you still need to make sure you aren’t over-indulging and you still need to ensure that your overall calorie intake is less than you are burning if possible.

The good news is just that you’ll find it hard to eat that much cheese or oil before you start to feel full!

Fact or Myth: The Mediterranean Diet Prevents a Huge Number of Illnesses

What’s certainly true though is that the Mediterranean diet can prevent heart disease as well as a broad range of other health problems. It can improve your energy, your mood and your overall health and in general it’s just an incredibly healthy diet to stick to.

So why is all this the case? Simple: because the Mediterranean diet is packed with nutrients. This is where the real power of this diet comes in.

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