What is a Healthy Mediterranean Diet?

If you conjure up visions of pizza, lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, or gyros, think again.


And it’s not what people in the Mediterranean eat today.

“If you go to Italy, the bread and the pasta are white,” notes Lichtenstein. “And if you go to Greece or Spain, you’re not getting brown rice or whole-grain bread.”

The “Mediterranean” diet that most researchers mean when they talk about it isn’t much different from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) or other diets that lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

“Whether you look at a Mediterranean diet or any heart-healthy diet, they’re all rich in fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, legumes, beans, and fish,” Lichtenstein explains. “They’re moderate in lean meats and poultry, and they have whole grains as opposed to refined grains or sugar.”

To make a diet more “Mediterranean” you add unsaturated fat (largely from olive oil) and subtract carbs. But many people forget to subtract.

“Let’s say you’re going to switch from light to regular salad dressing,” says Lichtenstein. “You can’t do that without taking something out. Hopefully, it’s the croutons, which are high in salt and usually made with white bread. And it’s going to mean cutting back on the portions of pasta or rice. Even if they’re whole grain, they’re adding calories.”

The same holds true for the nuts that often are touted as Mediterranean.

“The ads say to add nuts to your salad, add nuts to your cereal, snack on nuts,” says Lichtenstein. “But you can’t just add. You have to substitute.”


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