I too am well travelled, but personal experience does not a study
make. And first, I should clear up a few things right away.
The Mediterranean Diet is based upon the diet of Cretan men from
the 1960s. There are, however, slight variations that include nuts
(in season) and pasta. Having said this, now we can look at this
He claims that the “Mediterranean Peoples Ate Lots of
Saturated Animal Fats.”
If you do travel extensively, and I mean “very extensively,”
you’ll learn that for the poor in almost all countries their main
food source is a grain, or to be even more precise, a starch. In the orient, it’s rice, in Mexico, it’s
corn, in Ireland, it was the potato, in Italy, pasta, and in Greece it would have been bread (or paximadi which is old
bread re-heated). Another thing you’ll notice is that the poorer the
people the hotter (spicier) the food, because their only spice in
life is in their food (as one fellow traveler explained it to me).
Greek foods are not especially hot. Let us conclude that they
weren’t “dirt” poor. The poor in Greece lived mainly on bread and cheeses.
Meat, as with most poor people, was a luxury. Most would have
eaten meat on holidays and celebrations. The rest of the year, two,
three, if lucky, four times a month at best.
Butter was eaten by the affluent, as well as by those farmers who
made it. The poor could not afford butter and olive oil was much
cheaper as it was, and is, abundant. When people eat meat, they eat
saturated fats. So, here he is correct. The average Greek would have
off of mostly bread and dairy products from their goats and sheep.
When dairy products weren’t available, animal fats were.
The Mayo Clinic version I sent out said their diet was low
Actually, as I pointed out, it was low in “processed” salt. The Greeks
ate a lot of salt, feta cheese being their biggest selling cheese
swims in salt brine. Salt was also used for preserving fish and
The main claim I tend to disagree with is his
adamancy that they could not have possibly eaten eight servings of fruits and
Actually, I only partially disagree. Let’s face
it, before the inventions of canning and refrigeration, one ate
fruits and vegetable only when they were in season. When they were
in season, they were eaten abundantly, and as we'll see below; and,
it should be noted, for
much of Greece (and the Island of Crete), the growing season is
From Elena Paravantes’ site
Let’s take a look at some of his claims:
Mediterranean Peoples Ate Red Meat Whenever They Could
Get It, Eating As Much of It As They Could
Meat is perhaps the food most prized by the peoples of the
Mediterranean. Meat was often difficult to get, as the flocks of
sheep and goats were needed mainly for their milk, and the people
were often poor. Nevertheless, pigs were widely raised, and made
into a multitude of sausages, which were eaten throughout the year.
Mediterranean Peoples Did Not Eat Nine or More Servings
of Fresh Produce a Day
As discussed above, the variety of available fruits and
vegetables was limited, and seasonal. The supply of food was
often limited, and it is doubtful that most people ate nine
servings of anything a day.
The Origin of the Mainstream “Mediterranean Diet “Was
Based on What the People Ate During a Wartime Food Shortage
The first doctor to write of the “Mediterranean diet” was
stationed in poor coastal areas of Italy, in 1945, during
the last days of World War II. Food—especially the most
valuable foods such as meat and butter—were in very short
supply, and the hungry people ate whatever they could get.
If they ate their bread dry, it was because they could not
find fat to put on it, because of the food shortage. To
portray what they ate during this wartime food shortage as
their traditional diet was a mistake.
Now we can discuss these points, some of which Elena Paravantes
The Mediterranean Diet is only 60 years old. Prior to that,
refrigeration was limited. She has no idea where the idea came from
that the Mediterranean Diet was based on wartime food shortages;
this is absurd. She has documented that
the Mediterranean Diet was first described by Harvard researchers
working with World Health Organization in the 1990’s. Again, it is
based upon the diet of
Cretan men from the 1960s.
[See References Below]
As if Greece had not suffered enough during World
War II, a civil war started thereafter between the royalists and
The war and the civil war contributed to their great poverty
that spread throughout Greece.
The average Greek citizen was poor. The statement: “Mediterranean
Peoples Ate Red Meat Whenever They Could Get It, Eating As Much of
It As They Could” is almost redundant. Poor people ate whenever they
could, whatever they could, and ate as much as they could.
But poor people did not have as much access to meat as the
affluent did. Elena also pointed that there were 180 days of fasting
from most animal meats for religious reasons. She added, “Greece has
plenty of fruits and vegetables in all seasons.”
Greece has the same latitude as southern Ohio with a temperate
climate due to the Mediterranean ocean. Except for the mountainous
region, the temperatures hardly ever drop below freezing. The
growing season is 8 to 12 months, depending on location. So
vegetables and fruits were available most of the year, and olives
were harvested (and turned to olive oil during the winter months).
Elena told me: “Yes Greeks consumed about a pound of vegetables a
day (they still do actually); most bread at that time (50's-60's)
was whole grain, white bread was a luxury, and the Cretans had whole
One misconception about this diet is that it is comes
specifically from Greece. Crete is not all of Greece. And there are
variations of this diet that bring in other food traditions from
countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Southern Italy is another
source. So, pasta is thrown into the equation, along with lots of
tomatoes and garlic.
The poor are, by definition, hungry. They will eat whatever they
have when they have it. So when fruit and vegetables were abundant,
they “ate as much as they could.”
Wine & Resveratrol
Grapes were harvested in the fall, pressed by hand (or feet,
fermented. Fermenting is actually one method of preservation.
Now I’m sure some of you know about the French Paradox, how they
ate things thick with cream and lots of saturated fats but never got
Well, that is no paradox. If you eat things thick with cream and
lots of saturated fats, you won’t necessarily get heart disease.
These things do not cause heart disease. Not by themselves.
Cholesterol laden fats are not dangerous; but oxidized
cholesterol is. For example, an egg is the healthiest food you can
put in your body (a free range, organic egg), but frying up the yolk
(in an omelet or scrambled eggs) damages the fats and you end up
consuming oxidized cholesterol.
So, doctors who knew nothing about nutrition came up with the
term French Paradox, pointing to the phytochemicals in wine that
prevented heart disease.
They were wrong about the fats, but right about the wine. Wine
contains resveratrol and quercetin which work together in synergy
to protect your arteries, cool inflammation, and reverse aging.
Personally, an even better paradox is the Italian Paradox (a term
just coined right here). There are communities researchers
discovered of Italians who are
very much overweight yet live well into their late eighties and
nineties free of heart disease and cancer. Researchers pointed to red wine, but that
was not not enough to
explain their longevity, and so continuing research now points to the
amount of tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil they consumed; garlic
cutting inflammation and the lycopene (made more absorbable by olive
oil) in tomatoes protecting their throats, stomachs, and intestines.
Foundation of the Mediterranean Diet
What makes the Mediterranean Diet unique and healthy is this: the
ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids, followed by the
phytochemicals in their non-processed fruits and vegetables.
This is the diet in a nut shell.
But we cannot stop here, for as Elena points out, her last trip
to Greece was an eye opener because the people had dropped the
traditional foods, had taken up processed crap, and had started
growing fat and lazy.
You see, the Mediterranean Diet isn’t so much what they ate as
what they did not eat.
What the Mediterranean Diet Is NOT
Whole grains and process grains: sure they ate bread, but they did
not eat chips and certainly did not eat corn. Corn is something
consumed mainly in the Americas. When I lived in the Middle East, I
never saw corn. The French feed corn to their pigs. Corn is very
high in omega-6 fatty acids.
They did not eat trans fats. Trans fats are, historically, pretty
recent and an invention of an industrial society.
They did not eat fake, man made sweeteners.
The meat they did eat was raised on their farms and were grass
fed (although, I’m not sure what they fed their pigs). They did not
eat factory farmed meats, poultry, pork, or eggs.
There You Have It
We have no agenda at this site. Just the plain, simple truth. Or
as Goethe said, “The simplicity of truth is annoying to man.”
The Mediterranean Diet, as described here, is heart healthy and
anti-inflammatory. It consists of foods with one ingredient. Meals
are prepared, not purchased. Wine is consumed, but since we have
refrigeration today, you can get the same benefits of wine drinking
grape juice (or making grape jelly).
Two Really Neat Facts About the Mediterranean Diet:
1. People who have been put on it for heart health reasons,
also lost weight.
2. It is responsible for the destruction of our Food
Pyramid (but that’s a whole nother story).
1. Winter months are also the rainy months in Greece. The average
daytime high ranges from 58 degrees in December to 56 degrees in
February, according to Weather.com. The average nighttime lows range
from 46 degrees in November to 44 degrees in February. It can also
get cold enough to snow in Athens on occasion. January is usually
the coolest month on average.
In order to fact check exactly where the original
Mediterranean Diet was described, I performed a search on the web
and came up with the following sources:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16512956 - by the Harvard
prof who first described the diet.
Live Longer with the Greek
Lifestyle: Eat Plants and Drink Wine
The 5 Biggest Misconceptions About
the Mediterranean Diet