What About the Mediterranean Diet?
There has been a lot of publicity around “The Mediterranean Diet” in recent years, especially since the publication of “Low Fat Lies, High fat Frauds” by Mary Flynn and Kevin Vigilante. The book is on the whole very good and makes clear the importance of “watching the calories” (regardless of what type of food we eat – calorie counting), exercising regularly, eating mostly phytochemical rich plant food (to maximize health and prevent disease) and (more controversially) not restrict “healthy fats”, especially olive oil as it is argued that a diet without these fats is both unpalatable and unhealthy. If you have followed the narrative of this site so far, much of the above may sound familiar! To be sure, any diet which advocates a careful monitoring of saturated fat intake and avoids trans fats, has to be better than the typical modern American diet. And it is certainly true that it is better to use olive oil than margarine or butter.
Despite much good advice in the book, I would like to take a moment or two highlighting a few assertions that are made by Vigilante & Flynn that are more questionable. First, they claim that cooking food in olive oil increases phytochemical absorption and that eating vegetables without a high-fat topping is not as nutritious since the phytochemicals are not absorbed. This is not accurate. When vegetables are cooked, or eaten with fat, some nutrients are more efficiently absorbed and other heat-sensitive nutrients are lost or rendered less absorbable. Many studies show that raw fruits and vegetables offer the highest blood levels of cancer-protective nutrients and the most protection against cancer of any other foods, including cooked vegetation. Any advice not recognizing that raw vegetables and fresh fruits are the two most powerful anti-cancer categories of foods is off the mark.
To illustrate, Paul Talalay, M.D., of the Brassica Chemoprotection Laboratory at the John Hopkins School of Medicine is involved with researching the effect of cooking on phytochemicals. He reports “widely different effects on the compounds in vegetables that protect against cancer.” These compounds are both activated and destroyed by various cooking methods. Vigilante and Flynn have championed the position that cooking foods in olive oil is the centrepiece of a healthy diet, without adequate scientific evidence. Their interpretation of the scientific literature perpetuates this fallacy. The result is more people unable to lose weight successfully. The advice this site promotes is extremely different. While recognizing that raw, uncooked vegetables and fruits offer the most powerful protection against disease and we encourage our subscribers to eat huge salads and at least four fresh fruits per day, diets with little raw foods are not ideal. As the amount of raw fruits and vegetables are increased in a person’s diet, weight loss and blood pressure are lowered effortlessly.
Additionally, raw foods contain enzymes, some of which can survive the digestive process in the stomach and pass into the small intestines. These heat-sensitive elements may offer significant nutritional advantages to protect against disease, according to investigators from the Department of Biochemistry at Wright State University School of Medicine. These researchers concluded that “most foods undergo a decrease in nutritive value in addition to the well-known loss of vitamins when cooked and/or processed.” Most vitamins are heat-sensitive, for example 20 – 60 percent of vitamin C is lost, depending on the cooking method. Thirty to forty percent of minerals are lost in cooking vegetables as well. Consuming a significant quantity of raw foods is essential for superior health.
Raw … but Delicious!
For the best results, your diet should contain a huge amount of raw foods, a large amount of the less calorifically dense cooked vegetation, and a lesser amount of the more calorifically rich cooked starchy vegetables and grains. Cooking your food in oil will make your diet less effective and you will not lose weight as easily. You may not even lose any weight at all. Vigilante and Flynn tested their diet on 120 people, and the average person lost eight pounds in eight weeks. In the same amount of time on a nutrient rich diet (as promoted on this site), you should lose at least three times that, if you have a considerable amount of extra weight to lose. Keep in mind, weight loss slows down over time. Regardless of the type of diet you follow, most people will lose at least some weight especially in the early stages as some discipline has to be better than none at all! Even eating the same foods but in smaller portions may have some short term impact … although this is rarely a successful strategy in the long term as most people will just drift back into their old ways. But for seriously overweight individuals, especially those with a strong genetic tendency towards obesity and a slow metabolism may lose very little weight with the Mediterranean Diet … or lose no weight at all. Many who enjoy a little success to start with ( say by losing 5 to 15 pounds), will start to falter when further weight loss becomes more difficult and most will eventually just give up.
Another issue many have with the Mediterranean Diet is its strategy of dealing with hunger pangs by eating a lot of pasta and Italian bread. This not only causes difficulty with weight control but is also an important factor in increasing colon cancer risk in populations with this eating style. For the very overweight individual, the Mediterranean diet, like other conventional weight-loss programs, is neither restrictive enough nor filling enough to achieve the results desired. Because olive oil adds so many extra calories to their diet, dieters still have to carefully count calories and eat tiny portions. All those calories supplied by olive oil, almost one-third of the total caloric intake, make the diet significantly lower in nutrients and fibre.
You can always lose weight by exercising more, and I am all for that. However, many very overweight people are simply too ill and too heavy to exercise much and cannot comply with a substantial exercise program until they are in better health or lose some more weight first. So most people need a diet that will drop weight effectively, even if they can’t do lots of exercise. With a nutrient rich diet (discussed in much more detail later in this site), the average person loses the most weight in the first four to six weeks, with the average being about twenty pounds . The weight loss continues nicely — those following this program continue to lose about ten pounds the second month and about a pound and a half per week thereafter. The weight loss continues at this comparatively quick rate until they reach their ideal weight. If you eat the quantities of oil permitted on the typical Mediterranean diet, where all the vegetables are cooked in oil, you will have difficulty taking off the weight you need to lose. You can add a little bit of olive oil to your diet if you are thin and exercise a lot. However, the more oil you add, the more you are lowering the nutrient-per-calorie density of your diet … and that is not your objective, as it does not promote good health.