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What Makes the Mediterranean Diet Healthy?

Updated on June 21, 2014
What Makes the Mediterranean Diet Healthy? Real, Clean Foods
What Makes the Mediterranean Diet Healthy? Real, Clean Foods | Source

The Mediterranean Diet Menu Includes Foods Health Experts Tell You Not to Eat

You've heard that the Mediterranean diet menu is a healthy nutritional plan, but do you know why?

If your answer sounds something like, "Because it's vegetarian," you've been led astray.

Countries in the Mediterranean region have eaten a wide variety of foods for centuries. Their meals often include meats like lamb and pork.

They even enjoy raw, full-fat dairy--products that American health professionals say will send you to an early grave.

Unprocessed, organic meats, vegetables, fruits, and dairy in their natural forms all contribute to a healthy diet.

In a Traditional Mediterranean Diet, Unprocessed Foods Rule

In America, most of the focus is on macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These are all nutrients that are important for good health, both mental and physical.

In order to find healthy foods, switch the focus from "How many grams of fat does this food contain?" to "Where did this food come from?". When you eat quality, nutrient-dense foods, your appetite is satisfied, your weight stabilizes, and your health improves.

For example, beef that comes from grass-fed cows contains vital nutrients you can't get from vegetables. Replace that with beef from a grain-fed, factory farm-raised cow and you have a different product altogether.

The same holds true with veggies: a conventionally grown, pesticide-doused head of lettuce that was trucked across the country last week is toxic and nutrient-depleted. It's no match for locally grown or organic greens.

Choose a Pure Olive Oil--Go Domestic

A Mediterranean diet menu isn't complete without olive oil! Unlike toxic vegetable oils, olive oil contains healthy fats and disease-fighting polyphenols.

Unfortunately, a lot of imported olive oil that you find in the store isn't pure. Corrupt companies dilute it with cheap vegetable oils to increase profits.

There are several precautions you can take to be sure to get real olive oil. Pure olive oil should (sort of) solidify in the refrigerator. When you take a taste it should give you a bit of a peppery feel in the back of your throat.

Domestic varieties, like olive oils from California, are more likely to be pure. High-end imported labels are also more likely to be free of other oils.

Lose the Factory Farms

Is grass-fed beef or pastured chicken identical to factory-farm-raised animals? Science has proven that this isn't so.

According to an article published by Time,

"Beef has a bad rep among nutritionists but that might be partly unfair for grass-fed steaks. According to research from the University of California, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef."

{In fact, conventional grain-finished beef has no omega-3 fatty acids: chloroplasts in the grass are converted into omega-3 in the cow's rumen.}

Healthy animals make healthy food, even when you don't consider the moral aspect of the abuses of both animals and humans in the world of factory farming.

A traditional Mediterranean diet menu contains clean meats: fresh animal foods raised by local farmers, antibiotic-free and without added hormones.

Replace the Fake with the Real

Eating a wide variety of foods, including an abundance of vegetables, is crucial for good health.

Instead of assuming that meat and natural fats should be replaced with vegetables, try substituting refined grains and sugars with fresh whole foods of all types.

A true Mediterranean diet menu doesn't include products like low-fat crackers, breads, or sugary sweets.

Mediterranean Diet Menu vs. Standard American Diet Menu: A Realistic Comparison

Mediterranean Diet Menu
Standard American Diet Menu
Organic fruit and vegetables
Pesticide-sprayed fruit and vegetables
Grass-fed meats, pastured chicken and eggs
Grain-fed meats, caged chicken and eggs
Raw dairy: milk and cheese with natural fat content
Processed, pasteurized milk and cheese, including skim and low-fat varieties
Oily ocean fish, like salmon and anchovies
Fish McBites
Sprouted grains
Refined grains
Low-sugar desserts
Foods and drinks sweetened with table sugar or HFCS (agave nectar or evaporated cane juice if you shop at a health food store)
Olive oil and butter
Vegetable oils and margarine

Pass by the Toxins

For many of us, choosing all organic produce is a luxury we can't afford.

Refer to the dirty dozen list and purchase the organic versions of conventionally grown high-pesticide fruits and vegetables. This is better for your health than purchasing all conventional produce.

Choose the cleanest foods possible when you can to avoid potential health problems. For instance, conventional lettuce contains toxins and endocrine disrupters that feed cancer cells and knock hormones out of balance.

There's really no such thing as organic in the Mediterranean diet because traditionally, organic is all there is.

Choosing organic meats and produce when you can will reduce your intake of these poisons. It's interesting how every so often the media will tell us that organic foods aren't more nutritious than other foods. So, what's the message? "Eat more of these toxic foods, but don't worry about it," when actually, the dangers of pesticides in food is an important concern!

What would a Mediterranean diet menu be without delicious feta cheese?
What would a Mediterranean diet menu be without delicious feta cheese? | Source

Making the Switch to Real Food

Pass the Processed Dairy

A traditional Mediterranean diet also includes raw dairy. The kind with all the fat in it.

Since dietary fat became a four-letter word in the American language several decades ago, skim milk or low-fat milk has been considered a healthier way to go.

Slowly but surely, people are catching on to the fact that low-fat diets aren't healthy. Natural dietary fats don't cause excess weight gain or lead to heart disease.

Nature knows what's healthy. For example, human breast milk is more than half saturated fat. It helps a baby to build a healthy immune system, brain, and gut.

Fat-free and low-fat milk have never been part of the human diet until recently. It's certainly not found on a true Mediterranean diet menu.

Raw dairy and processed dairy are entirely different in structure. Processed dairy--like pasteurized and processed milk and cheeses you find in the grocery store--have mutated proteins that can cause health problems.

Pasteurization was a great thing a century ago when the importance of sanitation and disease control were unheard of. Today, pasteurization exists because of--drum roll, please--politics. It has very little to do with good health practices.

Milk pasteurization takes a huge chunk of money from America's dairy farmers. For consumers, it has led to allergies and perhaps a number of other health problems.

But if the industry switched to raw dairy, a ginormous money-making giant would be killed. And America's dairy farmers would be able to produce a quality product that heals and promotes good health while keeping more of their hard-earned money for themselves.

Instead, the FDA imprisons those who sell raw milk. You can sell raw meat. You can sell raw eggs. But don't sell raw milk or you're going to jail.

For most of us, buying raw milk is not an option. It's hard to find a local provider, and when you can it's quite expensive. Fortunately, making homemade yogurt with whole organic milk brings the proteins closer to their original structure.


Give Up the (unsprouted) Grains

Health authorities tell us to eat more grains than anything else. Enjoy your breakfast cereal, breads, cereal bars, and whole crackers and you will enjoy good health and optimal weight.

It's easy to see that this advice hasn't helped. In reality, refined, processed grains are not healthy choices at all.

Grains contain anti-nutrient toxins that absorb minerals--calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron--from your body. It's no wonder more and more people struggle with bone loss and tooth decay.

These toxins help the seed to germinate. They also cause harm to their predators: mammals. Birds aren't considered predators because after the seeds pass through their systems, the seeds can still germinate and thrive.

Grains aren't a necessary part of the human diet. The nutrients found in grains are easily found in other more nutrient-dense foods that don't pull minerals out of your body (for example, animal products are excellent sources of B vitamins).

Traditional diets that include grains have always sprouted or fermented them. This removes almost all of the plant's natural toxins, and it's why sprouted grain breads are healthier than their refined counterparts.

Cool Video on Sprouting Grains

A True Mediterranean Diet Menu: Real Foods Only

A traditional diet--Mediterranean or otherwise--is based on nutritional discoveries made by generations of observers. A true Mediterranean diet menu is healthy and nutritious because it's not based on corporate interests, political motivations, or presuppositions. It's based on centuries of listening to nature, humankind's most intelligent dietitian.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Thank you, DDE! There are so many tasty dishes that originated from the Mediterranean region.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great ideas here and so interesting foods.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Thank you, Seckin :)

    • Seckin Esen profile image

      Seckin Esen 5 years ago from Ankara, Turkey

      Excellent hub! I was born and brought up in a small town on the Eagean coast of the Mediterranean Sea. I love the tasteful dishes of the Mediterranean diet. Thank you for reminding me my mother's delicious vegetarian dishes :)

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Thank you, Gypsy! There are so many delicious Mediterranean dishes to choose from--I'm sure you'll love it :)

    • Gypsy48 profile image

      Gypsy48 5 years ago

      Very informative hub. I have been trying to change my eating habits and the Mediterranean diet seems to be the way to go.Voted up and useful.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      That's great, cz. I'm glad to hear that you enjoy healthy foods! Thanks so much for your comment :)

    • CZCZCZ profile image

      CZCZCZ 5 years ago from Oregon

      Interesting to read. I guess I was already practicing many aspects of the Mediterranean diet based on our choices of food items, without much thought. Always have preferred olive oil over vegetable and ocean fish a few times a week, and other healthy options listed in your table. Thanks for putting that together.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Hi Jill! With your green thumb, getting lots of fresh veggies will be easy :) Oily fish just sounds gross. Most people enjoy tuna and salmon (unless they hate seafood, like my husband does). You could also try my Caesar dressing recipe (I'll add the link). It includes anchovies, which I think are disgusting alone but delicious in the dressing. Thank you!

      Thank you, Rebecca! I appreciate it :)

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This is a great resource for healthy eating. Thanks for pointing out the characteristics and benefits of a true Mediterranean diet! Voted awesome and shared.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the primer on the Med. diet. My husband wants to try this (I think). Anyway, he's bought a book about it. We only do three of items on your Mediterranean diet list, but adding two more wouldn't be that difficult. I'm not sure that I could get the fam to buy in on oily fish though. Good hub! Voted up and shared.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Oh my gosh, that's crazy! People often underestimate the effects of chemicals added to foods and beverages. Thank you, btrbell!

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Great, great hub! My family lived in Israel for years. When we moved back to the states, we each gained 20 pounds in the first 6 months. I was cooking the same foods but they had so many additives! Thank you for writing such a thorough, explanatory hub! Up+++

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Wow! That's really interesting. I once worked with a woman who was from Lebanon and she talked about how the food was so much cleaner over there. We worked at a health food store and I was a produce manager. She would point out (on the organic produce, mind you) how the fruits and vegetables decomposed in a way that wasn't natural. For example, the spots that form on tomatoes when they start to go bad--that apparently doesn't happen naturally. I had no idea! It's really such a shame. Thanks for your comment, Natasha!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I much prefer eating 'real' foods. I lived with my cousins in southern France for a summer and you just described exactly how they ate. When I came back to the states, eating the food here made me sick for days! I don't eat fast food, or really much junk food, either, but, even so, it isn't the same. Eating fresh and natural is just a way of life in that part of the world.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Right on, Lizam. I think that food marketers cleverly keep us thinking that processed foods are less expensive by offering coupons and deals all the time when in fact, with whole foods you can make a lot more food for a lot less money. Thank you for your comment!

      Thank you, tillsontitan! Clean meats are difficult to find, but let's hope they continue to become more available as consumers learn more about the dangers of conventionally-raised animals and processed food products (remember the "pink slime" fiasco?). Let's keep our fingers crossed that the trend continues! Thanks again for your kind words and votes.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      What great information...we are so stuck on our processed foods! Real meat, especially steak is almost an unknown commodity in the states. Great job of educating us on what's real and good to eat.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting!!!

    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

      Unprocessed and cooked from scratch is definitely the key to better health and a healthy diet. In fact eating this way does not have to cost more - growing fresh tomatoes in pots on the patio, joining or creating a community kitchen, shopping for foods in season make this way of eating very doable on a low budget, plus you save $'s on health issues.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Thanks, Bill. Yeah, I'm the first to admit that organic isn't affordable to most of us. But I do buy certain items organic, especially veggies on the dirty dozen list or things that aren't very expensive (like carrots). I would love to raise my own chickens, mostly for the fresh eggs! Are you getting some?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent job of research, Liz! It's obvious you know your stuff on this one. Now if we could all afford to eat organic the world would be a better place. Hey, we are going to raise our own chickens, so that's a start, right? :)

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Thank you, prairieprincess! I'm glad the information helped you.

      When I first started on a real-food diet, I did find it to be expensive. But different tricks have helped me to keep costs down. Cooking a whole chicken, making stock with the bones, and using that stock to make quick vegetable soups is a great way to stretch your grocery dollars. I've found that it actually ends up being less expensive when you replace foods that are less satisfying--like a bag of potato chips--with roasted or sweet potatoes. Anyway, I babble on and on about these things! Thanks for sharing :)

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 5 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for this! I had read about the Mediterranean Diet before, but your article really helped to clear up exactly what it entails, and it makes a lot of sense. I find it takes time and a bit more money to eat this way, but it definitely is the way to go. Great information! Shared ....


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