When I first started following a Mediterranean diet, I wasn’t losing weight. I had to admit to myself, “If you think this is the Mediterranean Diet, you’re doing it wrong.” Then I discovered how to do it better.
Countless studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is pretty much the healthiest way of eating and living on the planet. But it is often misunderstood, or exploited by some who have used the term to promote their own diets which are radically different from the real thing.
Below I discuss some of the ways people get the Mediterranean diet wrong, and how we can make adjustments to reap the many benefits of this healthy lifestyle.
You’re eating too much food
As I said, when I first started following a Mediterranean diet I was eating all of these lovely foods. I was building my meals around mostly vegetables. I was exploring whole grains. I was converting all of my oils over to olive oil. But I was still eating too much food.
Portion sizes in the United States have grown dramatically since I was a child. I remember eating sandwiches on little squares of bread. Now when you buy bread, the slices are almost twice the size. We get used to things like that without even thinking about it.
In the Mediterranean countries people eat much less food than we do. But they key is that the types of foods they eat keep them feeling full and satisfied longer. Vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes take longer to digest. It’s something you need to learn to trust. You won’t go hungry eating less food.
Many people follow a Mediterranean diet for its health benefits, not just to lose weight. If you are trying to lose weight, you need to eat less food. There is no way around it. But that doesn’t mean you have to go hungry. Trust it. Trust the Mediterranean way.
You’re only eating Greek food
Some people are not interested in a Mediterranean diet because they think they have to live on Greek salads, stuffed grape leaves, and spinach wrapped in phyllo. While all of these foods are delicious and healthy for you, the Mediterranean diet is so much more.
Greece is a country with a history of healthy eating. They are part of the Mediterranean diet. But if you only eat Greek food, you may get bored, and will likely go back to your old eating habits.
What became known as the Mediterranean diet was born out of The Seven Countries Study. It was a study conducted after World War II to determine which countries eating habits resulted in the lowest serum cholesterol. Greece and Italy came out with the top scores. That’s when people really started to study how good nutrition, healthy eating habits, and a moderately active lifestyle can result in better cardiovascular health.
The Mediterranean diet was never just about Greece. As more studies were conducted in the years since, the Mediterranean diet has been expanded to include the many countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. These countries all follow the same principle of eating mostly vegetables, whole grains, etc., but they all have their own ways of favoring foods with spices and herbs.
You can follow a Mediterranean diet and never get bored because there is so much variety. Explore recipes from the many countries in the Mediterranean region.
You’re eating foods that are not authentic
My interpretation of the Mediterranean diet leans towards Italian food. I also enjoy some Greek food, recipes from the south of France, tapas from Spain, and I like to explore the other countries along the Mediterranean.
But what we call Italian food in the U.S. is not how they eat in Italy. Italian-American food is very different from the real thing. In the U.S. Italian food tends to consist of large portions of meat and meat sauces, creamy cheesy sauces, sausages, deli meats, frozen pizza, etc.
In reality, meals in Italy are largely plant-based. Pasta dishes are prepared simply with vegetable sauces, or sauces made with nuts, fish, or herbs. They are simple and only a small portion of a larger meal. They consume a lot more fish than meat. Meat is eaten occasionally or used as a flavoring instead of being the center of the meal.
Even pizza is America is loaded with meat, when in Italy it will have tomato sauce, very little cheese, and perhaps some vegetables and herbs.
You’re eating the wrong kind of fat
The Mediterranean diet is not a low-fat diet. But there are healthy fats and there are unhealthy fats. Olive oil is a healthy fat, and it is used profusely in all of the Mediterranean countries.
Other sources of healthy fat are fatty fishes, like tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, bass, which are all packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, an important nutrient. Also, nuts and seeds, avocados, eggs, and yogurt are all healthy sources of fat.
Our bodies need healthy fat to help absorb nutrients. Healthy fats also help lower blood pressure, increase good cholesterol while decreasing bad cholesterol, all of which help prevent heart disease.
You’re trying to be low carb
The Mediterranean diet is not in any way a low-carb diet, even though there are many so-called low-carb Mediterranean cookbooks on the market. Low-carb Mediterranean is a term that makes no sense.
A real Mediterranean diet includes lots of whole grains, even real semolina pasta. Whole grains include brown rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, quinoa, cornmeal, bulgur wheat, barley, and many ancient grains such as farro, amaranth, teff, millet, and more. Fresh vegetables, fruits, and beans also contain healthy carbohydrates.
Carbs are not the enemy. Overly processed and refined carbs should be avoided. I once had a doctor tell me that no one ever lived to be 100 years old eating a low-carb diet. The Mediterranean diet is all about longevity.
You’re juicing or drinking smoothies
It’s always best to eat fruits and vegetables rather than drink them. Most people in the U.S. are not eating enough fiber. When you juice, you are removing the healthy fiber from the fruits and vegetables.
Fiber is good for you. It helps you feel full longer, it helps keep blood sugar in check, it keeps you regular, and supports gut health.
Smoothies keep the fiber but are sometimes packed with calories. Many servings of fruits and veggies go into making one smoothie. This is fine is you drink a smoothie as a meal replacement. But a lot of people drink them in addition to their meals, and the excess calories can result in weight gain.
If you enjoy juicing and drinking smoothies, just be sure to balance out your day so that you’re getting enough fiber and not too many calories.
You drink too much
Whether it be sweet tea, full-fat lattes, or wine, always remember moderation. Coffee and tea can be beneficial because they offer antioxidants. It’s when we add sugary flavored syrups, lots of milky foam, and even sometimes whipped cream, that they can become very high-calorie drinks.
Enjoy a simple espresso, a non-fat latte, or a cup of unsweetened tea.
Red wine is always mentioned on the Mediterranean diet because it contains resveratrol, which is beneficial to your health. Have a glass on wine, not a bottle of wine. Always practice moderation.
You’re following trends
The Mediterranean diet is the way of our ancestors, before all the super processed foods were available. It’s considered the healthiest diet because there are centuries of proof that this way of living works.
There will always be new trends in dieting. It doesn’t hurt to explore them. But I think you’ll find that the healthiest and the most enjoyable way to eat is the Mediterranean way.
Have a look at my cookbook, The Big Book of Mediterranean Diet Cooking, for inspiration.