Fats and Fiction about the Mediterranean Diet:
How A High Fat Diet Keeps You Slim And Healthy
Obesity and being overweight is the norm.
And while this message seems to come over loud and clear, the messages about what we should be eating are a lot less clear.
We’ve all heard it. The ‘Mediterranean diet’ is the healthiest and best way to eat. Olive oils, fish, bread, nuts, avocados and if it’s with organic products even better.
But wait. That’s high fat, right?
Equally, we’ve all heard that a ‘low fat’ diet is the best. Fats are bad.
Processed is bad. But wait – does that include all the ‘balanced’ ‘counted for you’ ‘weight watchers’ microwave dinners too?
A trip to the local supermarket can become an outing of utter confusion, squinting at tiny writing on the back of packets, figuring out ‘traffic light’ systems and a sinking feeling that we just know what the hell we should be cooking for tea.
When did it become so hard? Is it any wonder we grab a bag of kettle chips and a bottle of red on our way out?
The Research: Why Go Mediterranean?
The Mediterranean diet, which actually has a high-fat content, does not cause people to gain weight, a major study has found.
The research has been carried out in Spain and it says “fat-fear” is misplaced and to restrict it in our diets is wrong and not conducive to weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight.
The research followed more than 7,000 people (approx. 90% of whom were overweight to obese). Some ate an unrestricted calorie Mediterranean diet with an extra 30g of nuts or 50ml of extra virgin olive oil a day, while others were put on a standard low-fat diet.
Those on a ‘healthy’ high-fat diet eating nuts or extra olive oil did not gain and in fact, lost more weight and waist inches than the group on a standard low-fat diet.
The researchers claim that healthy fats from vegetables and fish and calorie dense quality food should be firmly back on the menu, changing attitudes and the way we eat.
And although a typical Mediterranean diet is high in fats, it does not generally include significant levels of red meat or butter. Nor does it tend to include fast food, sweets, desserts, processed food or sugar-sweetened drinks. And it’s these (we only have to look at the ‘UK or US’ style of diet) that are the real villains.
FAT, according to the Spanish research, is not the culprit.
Fat – Our Old Enemy
Around the 1960s and 1970s, two things happened. The diet industry realized there were huge profits to be made. And “Low Fat” food became big news in the supermarket.
Fat was officially not our friend, and the diet industry was going to save us from it.
It was part of the big misunderstanding that calorie dense foods would make us fat.
Food manufacturers substituted sugar and other carbs for fat in everything from ready meals to yogurts. And this was the start of the problem.
It had the unfortunate effect of contributing to the obesity epidemic.
The lead researcher in the Spanish team, Dr. Ramon Estruch from the University of Barcelona said;
“More than 40 years of nutritional policy has advocated for a low-fat diet but we’re seeing little impact on rising levels of obesity”.
What the Spanish study has shown is that a calorie dense diet has a more positive impact on weight control or loss than a ‘low fat’ diet.
But simply, it has to be the right food.
And maybe this is what’s causing the confusion.
For over four decades, fats have been perceived as being the cause of, well, being fat.
“We must abandon the myth that lower-fat, lower-calorie products lead to less weight gain.” Prof Dariush Mozaffarian (Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, Boston, US)
The advice is to focus more on the quality of our food rather than the calorie content. It just makes no sense to say whole milk is bad, but allow sugar-sweetened fat-free milk.
This is an old-fashioned way of thinking. Fat content is not necessarily the problem. But sugar substitutes most certainly are a problem.
“The fat content of foods and diets is simply not a useful metric to judge long-term harms or benefits.. ..modern scientific evidence supports an emphasis on eating more calories from fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans, fish, yoghurt, phenolic-rich vegetable oils, and minimally processed whole grains; and fewer calories from highly processed foods rich in starch, sugar, salt, or trans-fat.” Prof Dariush Mozaffarian (Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, Boston, US)
So, if there is finally a clear message emerging, it’s about eating quality natural foods over refined sugar and processed junk.
Treat the body with nutrition and care, and we can control our weight and health. Feed it with sugars, carb substitutes and cheap, processed foods and we have no idea what’s going in or how to control it.
Our 8 Top Tips to go Mediterranean
Tip 1: Replace butter and margarine with healthy oils as often as possible. Olive and extra virgin Olive Oil are better.
Tip 2: Swap your proteins. Swap red meat and for chicken and turkey, fish, beans, nuts, and other plants.
Tip 3: Eat veggies all day long. No need for explanation. Cooked, raw, salads – help yourself.
Tip 4: Have whole-grain bread, pasta, rice, and other grains. Whole grains haven’t been refined. Avoid ‘white’ versions.
Tip 5: Snack on nuts, seeds or cheese or dairy instead of processed snacks like crisps or biscuits.
Tip 6: Enjoy fruit for dessert. Drizzle with honey if you are a total sweetie.
Tip 7: Keep wine to a glass or two with a meal. Wine is sugar, sugar, sugar.
Tip 8: Set aside enough time to savor every bite.
Eating like a Mediterranean is as much lifestyle as it is diet. TV dinners are out, tables, al fresco, company, and conversation are in.