Diet Wars Over - Mediterranean Wins… Fats Vindicated but Sugar Guilty of Health Crimes

Ancel Adams, scientist and inventor of WW2 K-Rations, was telling Americans exactly this way back in 1947. Elizabeth David told Brits and the ANZACs as early as 1946. What they told us then and what we all know now, except for the Big Food Barons, is that a Mediterranean diet is not just delicious and nutritious, but people who eat this way live longer and healthier lives, without succumbing to heart disease and strokes, and with greatly diminished risks of diabetes, dementia and cancers.

The evidence keeps piling up. In January of this year the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported the results of a study drawn from over 93,000 women of the Women’s Health Initiative 1993-2008 designed to establish the difference in risk of sudden cardiac death between the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and a Mediterranean diet. The results were dramatic: the Mediterranean Diet was associated with a large and significant reduction in risk of sudden cardiac deaths. While there was no comparable risk reduction in deaths as a result of the DASH diet, it is known that this low fat diet reduces blood pressure effectively.

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Elizabeth David by David Bailey, London 1966 Wider and more conclusively yet, in February of last year the New England Journal of Medicine published findings of a major clinical trial measuring the direct effects of the Mediterranean Diet on cardiovascular disease. So conclusive were the results that the study was ended after just four years because the results were so very clear it was considered unethical to continue.What the study found was that 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and wine with meals.

The research is especially noteworthy in that the diet saved lives among those following it, even though they did not lose weight and most of them were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.

Demonising Fats to Sell Sugar

It is a lamentable fact that since 1985 there has been a massive and well-funded disinformation campaign devised by vested interests in the food and pharmaceutical industries, who have co-opted government and the medical establishment, in a program designed to shift the blame for heart disease and stroke away from the refined sugars they peddle, and where it mostly belongs, onto fat – all fats, that is except artificially made ones (trans fats). Even today Big Food and its co-opted creatures in government make it as difficult as possible for you to tell from food labels just how much sugar they have secreted into their otherwise tasteless low-fat approximations of real food.

Americans and Britons now consume a colossal annual per capita of 100 lbs (45 to 50 Kg) of sugar, mostly in the hidden form of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) used in low-fat (diet) sodas and packaged foods of all kinds. And that’s not good…. the Harvard School of Public Health reveals a strong correlation between the consumption of refined carbohydrates and increased risk of breast cancer, in addition to the chronic diseases already linked to excess sugar consumption: diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, asthma and now cancer.

What the consensus of scientific opinion is now being permitted to tell us is that some fats are actually good for us, some good in moderation or in low amounts and the only truly bad fats are the food industry’s own trans fats or hydrogenated oils they’ve been selling us for the past quarter of a century in their packaged foodstuffs. Even previously demonised saturated fats, consumed in moderation and in “real” food forms can be good for you (butter, eggs, coconut oil, etc.).

The Med Diet – what it is…

For those who didn’t already know about it, and amazingly it seems a majority of Americans didn’t, the Mediterranean Diet was officially launched on the American public in 1995 when by Dr Walter Willett of Harvard’s School of Public Health and others defined the Mediterranean Diet as based on "food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s". This diet, in addition to "regular physical activity," emphasizes "abundant plant foods, fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert, olive oil as the principal source of fat, dairy products (principally cheese and yogurt), and fish and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts, zero to four eggs consumed weekly, red meat consumed in low amounts, and wine consumed in low to moderate amounts". Total fat in the diet is 25% to 35% of calories, with saturated fat at 8% or less of calories.

Olive oil is often considered characteristic of the Mediterranean diet, containing a very high level of monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid, which studies show is linked to a reduction in coronary heart disease risk. There is also evidence that the antioxidants in olive oil improve cholesterol regulation and LDL cholesterol reduction, and that it has other anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects.

A word of caution. Rancid oils, no matter how intrinsically good they may be when freshly pressed, are actively harmful to you when rancid or adulterated. Those of you familiar with the pervasive odour of fish fried in rancid oils that wafts around whole neighbourhoods will know what I mean. Alas olive oil, whose fresh aroma is a gift from the Gods is only to be trusted to deliver its health-giving benefits in its cold pressed extra virgin forms and then only under the imprimatur of a trusted organization. The world is rightly suspicious of all the supposedly Italian olive oils, which can come from almost anywhere and be mixed from oils of varying the qualities from many countries and in many cases blended with non-olive oils. So widespread is the problem that today you will probably find some of best and most reliable olive oils originating in California and Australia.

What it’s not…

Having stated what the Mediterranean Diet is, it is just as well to say something on what it is not. It is not, for instance, a license to pig out daily on vast plates of pasta smothered in creamy, cheesy (processed) sauces. Neither pasta nor bread, even whole grain breads should be eaten excessively. Real fresh and natural ingredients, moderation and sensible sized portions along with regular physical activity are what make such a diet work.

Conning yourself and gaming the diet (remember: watch those desserts and satisfy your sweet tooth with whole fruit,) will negate the benefits. Those Cretan men surveyed back in the1960s were seven times less likely to die from heart disease and strokes than their US counterpart. Today those causes of death are still much lower in Crete, but they’ve risen 30% nonetheless. You can put that down to an increase in consumption of sugar and modern convenience foods, along with a less active life style.

What goes for the Mediterranean diet applies equally in Asia. The Asian Diet Pyramid emphasizes a wide base of rice, rice products, noodles, breads and grains, preferably whole grain and minimally processed foods, topped by another large band of fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs, nuts and seeds. Daily physical exercise, a small amount of natural vegetable oil and a moderate consumption of alcohol are also recommended daily.

It seems to me a Mediterranean diet is a diet only in the general sense. It’s a great relief to relax and eat deliciously and naturally knowing that it’s keeping you healthy and that your only requirement is not to overeat and to exercise reasonably regularly.

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