Mediterranean diet mythsAs with most ways of eating, there are a lot of Mediterranean diet myths. And if you are a reader of my blog and newspaper/magazine articles, you know I love busting myths! Here are some of the biggest misconceptions I hear.

Myth 1: The Med diet doesn’t work outside the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that can apply to anyone, anywhere. While there are many foods that are specific to the Mediterranean region (and this is a BIG area with MANY) foods, most of these foods are easy to find here at home. There are other foods that are typical of North America but not of the Mediterranean that could fit in a Mediterranean-style eating pattern, too (I’m thinking of blueberries).

Myth 2: The Mediterranean diet is all about pizza, pasta and cheese.

These foods are part of it, but the Med diet is very diverse. Many countries and food cultures fall under the Mediterranean diet umbrella. The countries that border the Mediterranean Sea include not just Greece, and the southern parts of Italy, France and Spain, but also Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco and several others. If the Mediterranean diet is about anything, it’s about the vegetables and pulses (beans and lentils), dressed with olive oil!

Myth 3: The Mediterranean diet is too high in fat.

The types of fat that are common in the Mediterranean diet are heart-healthy and not associated with weight gain or poor health. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Research studies that randomly assigned some individuals to include regular use of nuts or olive oil as part of a Mediterranean diet found that they saw improvements in health compared with those participants who were told to eat a regular healthy diet. (They even provided participants with enough nuts or olive oil for everyone in their household…how awesome is that!)

Health experts agree that it’s not the amount of fat, but the type of fat that matters for most people. Nuts and olive oil, as well as fish, contain heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Traditional Mediterranean-style diets are relatively low in saturated fat, and most of the sat fat they do eat is from moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt, which have the additional benefit of being fermented foods.

Myth 4: You can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).

Au contraire! EVOO loses some of its unique flavor during cooking, but it doesn’t become unhealthy. While it’s true that EVOO has a lower “smoke point” (the point when an oil starts to smoke and break down) than refined oils like canola oil, vegetable oils and light olive oil, it’s high enough to be a healthful choice for almost all types of cooking we do at home.

Mediterranean countries, especially Greece, cook everything in extra-virgin olive oil. However, smoke point depends partly on the quality, age and condition of the oil. Good-quality EVOO is safe in a range of 350-410°F, in part because it is rich in antioxidants, which protect the oil from becoming damaged when heated. Poor quality oil, or oil that has gone rancid, will have a lower smoke point. How can you tell if your EVOO is good quality? Swallow a spoonful. If you feel a burn at the back of your throat, that means the oil still has it’s polyphenols (a family of phytonutrients that have powerful antioxidant properties).

Myth 5: The Mediterranean diet is hard to follow.

The Mediterranean diet isn’t any harder to follow than any nutritious, healthful eating plan. Sure, if you are trying to increase your consumption of certain foods, decrease your consumption others, and maybe cook at home more than you already do, then it will feel challenging at first while you are building new habits.

Why all this matters

Because research shows that a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), diabetes, chronic inflammation, Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers. Plus it might add years to your life, as well as life to your years. I’m no fan of austere, rigid diets, and the Mediterranean diet offers the best of both worlds…support for good health, and a wide variety of delicious food. That’s something to smile about!