In our high-speed, high-pressure, high stress culture, we could learn much from those simpler times. They say we are in the most advanced civilization in history…but are we?
Just look at our food. We’ve developed a processed, preserved, pretend food supply that leaves us listless and sickly. Compare that to the daily diet of the people around the Mediterranean Sea. For five thousand years, people from Damascus to Morocco have been eating a delicious, diverse, and nutrient-rich diet that not only keeps them strong and healthy, but tastes great, too. People in that area are strong and vibrant, with a healthy glow (and a gorgeous tan!)
For the last few Wednesdays, we’ve been tapping into the food wisdom that has passed down since the Roman Empire along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Naturally, it’s known today as the “Mediterranean Diet.” If you visit there, you will not see a lot of obese people. You won’t see many people on multiple medications for diabetes, hypertension, or leaky gut. Why? Their diet isn’t quietly killing them like the Standard American Diet (SAD). It’s not weird or complicated. It’s made up of foods you can find in any supermarket. It is one of the healthiest systems for eating in the world, and I highly recommend it for most of my patients.
Here’s a look at their food pyramid. It’s pretty amazing that it has taken us this long to find out what our ancestors already knew.
But at the same time, it’s not perfect. I want to call out a couple of things that you want to watch out for if you’re considering the Mediterranean Diet. I’m just going to highlight a couple of things here:
1. No Saturated Fats.
One of the problems with the USDA recommendations for nutrition is their demonization of saturated fats. They claim that saturated fats cause heart disease and obesity, when in fact, animal-based fats are an important part of our diet. Sadly, the Mediterranean Diet errs in the same direction. Our omnivorous bodies were designed to digest and benefit from saturated fats, and build cells from amino acids that can only be found in meat. While I think it’s good to limit meat compared to vegetables, there’s a line you can cross where you start malnourishing your body.
2. Dangers of Seafood.
There is some benefit to eating seafood, and the biggest one is the abundance of omega-3 fatty acids. However, considering how much seafood is farm-raised and how much of it comes from polluted waterways, the benefits are largely wiped out. Even in places like Japan, where most of their diet is based around seafood, toxic water is creating problems for the seafood industry. You are better off taking a daily omega-3 supplement like krill oil, unless you plan on eating a hefty amount of organically-raised salmon every single day.
3. Too Much Grain.
If you grew up in the Middle East, eating fresh, organic breads, beans, pastas, and other grains, your body has probably developed a good strong gut flora and a pancreas that handles the carbs effectively. However, for those of us who grew up in America, where grains are sprayed with enough chemicals to kill an elephant, eating a lot of carbs can be a dicey proposition. Research is finding that much of the gluten sensitivity and celiac disease that is running rampant in America is due to toxic amounts of pesticides used to raise and harvest our grain. You have to be careful with this. Also, our sugar-based diet leaves our bodies so awash with insulin that any amount of additional carbs just creates problems. I think the Med Diet puts too much emphasis on grains for what our bodies can handle.
4. Too Much Dairy…And Too Little.
Again, people living in the Middle East don’t have much experience with pasteurization, so to them, dairy is dairy. Their milk is as healthy as their yogurt and kefir, because they all contain adequate amounts of the bacteria that empower our gut microbiome. Here in America, we pasteurize all the life out of our dairy products, so all the components of dairy that make it so valuable to us are absent. As a result, we need to supplement with probiotics and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi to get the same value. Apple cider vinegar is also a great source of good bacteria.
5. One Size Does Not Fit All
Every body is a little different and needs slightly different balances of nutrients. There are some folks who need to ease into a diet like this gradually. Often, I will start them with a 28-day detox program to cleanse their cells and get their organs back in alignment. On some level, everyone could benefit from more vegetables and less meat, but even this diet needs to be tailored, so it’s difficult to give hard-and-fast rules for following it.
I don’t put this out there to discredit the Mediterranean Diet, but to give you some idea of where you might need to adjust the balance a little to get the most value from it. It’s still an amazingly simple, robust, and life-giving diet, even with these little caveats. You might know someone right now who is looking for a healthier way to eat, and this is a great place to start.
Have you moved to the Mediterranean Diet? How has it worked for you? Tell me about your results, good or bad, in the comments on Facebook. That’s where we’re building a community of like-minded people who are encouraging each other to greater health and wellness. We’d love to see you there.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas