How To Really Follow the Mediterranean Diet
Year after year researchers identify the Mediterranean Diet as the most effective eating pattern for preventing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments. Soon after researchers release their results, the media blizzards the public with affirmations of how effective the diet is. And yet, almost no one tries to offer up a simple way to change eating patterns in a way that matches the habits of people that had some of the highest longevity and lowest rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease in the world.
Over the course of the last decade I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Crete where the diet was originally “discovered” by Rockefeller Foundation social scientists in the 1940s. I’ve also done not a small amount of follow up research with contemporary scholars of “the diet.” What I learned in the course of my studies is that while much of the Cretan tradition can be vague, quixotic and even a little arbitrary, there are specific changes we can make to our American reality that can bring us more in line with the Mediterranean ideal.
Here then is a six point distillation of all that research that provides something of a road map for a better eating pattern.
1. Plenty of carbs but the right carbs
“This really is the base of the original Cretan diet,” so said the archaeologist Dimitra Mylona as she handed me a tough thick cracker in the dank cold chamber of a Minoan tomb a few miles outside the Cretan town of Rethymnon. For the last 20 years Mylona has been looking at skeletons of the early inhabitants of the island of Crete. What she concluded was that it was the twice baked barley bread or “rusks” that was the backbone of the diet. “You can see it in the teeth,” she told me, “they’re worn down from chewing on this hard stuff.” Whereas wheat was typically eaten by the upper classes, barley was the food of the commoners. This whole grain made for a bread that was slower to digest and less likely to cause the insulin spikes of white flour. This is largely attributable to the high amounts of soluble fiber contained in the grain — nearly twice that of whole wheat. “This has all sorts of benefits in terms appetite control and weight control,” David Katz founding director of Yale…