Mediterranean Eating Plan

When you are ready for something better than the latest diet

Pitting the Mediterranean Eating Plan Against the Latest Diet

The latest diet! We think “this” diet could be the solution to our weight and health problems. Magic is promised! Unfortunately “New” in the diet world means untested, unsure, and undefeated because it’s untried.

Why always go for new and young? May I suggest mature and tested? An eating plan that can be followed for years without great hardships.

The Mediterranean lifestyle is such an eating plan. It has been around for eons, long before people knew what to call it. Historically people followed this lifestyle because that was the food available. It kept them healthy well into their old age. When studied, people following the Mediterranean eating plan were more likely than others to reach the century mark and still be healthy and active! Today the western diet is replacing the Mediterranean in many areas of the world and we seeing more disease and death follow the diet change.

The Problem with the “Latest Diet”

Nutrition articles and fad diets tend to focus on “eat this and not that”. They involve current fashionable foods or nutrients. These diets change with the season. We’ve had the grapefruit diet, the watermelon diet, the cabbage soup diet, the high protein diets, the low carb diet and the gluten free diet. Currently the Paleo diet and coconut oil diet are very popular though these diet fads are also starting to slip.

Fad diets start with a science finding but then they make a big false assumption.

Take a group of people that have been studied for 30 years with medical and diet histories. As they aged some of these people got sick. Now with computers it is possible to look back at diet histories and find differences. If one of those differences was that the healthy people ate more kale can we assume that kale keeps people healthy?

No, this is a false assumption. It is one diet difference and there are many more. Some will show up in other analyses and others won’t. An early study study didn’t even ask people if they smoked. If it turned out that most of the people who did not eat kale also smoked could you think of another reason they got sick?

Food Intake Studies

Science based nutrition studies are done with food intake studies or food diaries. This is one of the only ways to measure how diet effects health without putting people in a locked facility and feeding them only certain foods for years. Unfortunately these food diaries or food frequency questionnaires are rough tools with many errors. We lose a lot of important details because they don’t get recorded, for instance:

  • Tomato: homegrown or picked green?
  • Coffee: plain or sweetened with lots of sugar?
  • Chicken: with skin or without?
  • Rice: 1/2 cup or 2 cups?
  • Snacks: often not recorded

To help minimize the effect of these errors Dietitians and Nutrition Professionals like to group foods with similar nutritional value together and just look at the group. You get more data points and errors can average out.

Historically Healthy Diets

Such food group studies have been conducted in several areas of the world were people live to a healthy old age. Some of those areas were around the Mediterranean and that data was the basis for the Mediterranean diet.

But there are other areas such as an islands off Japan, a community in California and one in Costa Rica were people also live to a healthy old age. They eat different foods than those found around the Mediterranean. Some are vegetarians, some don’t use olive oil, and some don’t use milk products.

Still, when you step back and look at food groups, not specific foods all these different diets have many similarities.They all promote lots of legumes, be it soy, beans, peas or lentils, as well as other vegetables and whole grains. They are distinct in that they contain only a small amount of added sugar, red meat or processed foods.

There are hundreds and hundreds of nutrients in foods, many of which are important to good health, and many that we have yet to identify. Fortunately food groups tend to have similar nutrients, both known and unknown. If you eat a variety of foods in a food group it should supply you with all the nutrients you need.

MyPlate

The USDA’s MyPlate diet plan is based on the data from many studies of people who live healthy through their older years. The diet plan is similar to the Mediterranean eating style but it is more detailed in that it gives amounts.

Here is the serving on a 2,000 calorie dietHere are the food groups we use in the US. Foods in each category provide similar nutrition. This example assumes a 2,000 cal diet.

  • Dairy – 3 servings a day (includes soy milk)
  • Protein – 5 ½ oz a day (½ cup legumes = 1 oz)
    • Fish – 20%+ of protein
    • Nuts – 10%+ of protein
    • legumes and dairy can also be used for protein
  • Grains – 6 servings a day
    • whole grain – 50%+ of grain servings
  • Fruit – 4 servings a day
    • Whole fruit – 75%+ should include fiber
  • Vegetables – 5 servings a day
    • Dark green vegetables – 3+ servings a week
    • Red and orange vegetables – 11+ servings a week
    • Legumes or pulses – 3+ servings a week
    • Starchy vegetables – 10+ servings a week
  • Oil – 1 Tablespoon
  • Treats – 250 calories

Looking at the MyPlate picture and the list to the left you can see that the food pyramid has transformed into a more detailed and focused MyPlate plan. It has upped the vegetables and fiber in the diet, “five a day of fruits and vegetables” has turned into “nine a day”!

A serving of food is generally ½ cup. For meat, cheese and breads it is 1 oz. And for raw leafy vegetables, and dairy beverages it is 1 cup.

Changes from the Food Pyramid

Studies done around the Millennium showed that Americans were getting their servings of vegetables as french fries and iceberg lettuce. The pyramid designers had wrongly assumed people were eating a variety of vegetables and they were lambasted for that assumption. Now MyPlate spells out the need for a variety of vegetables!

To ensure more fiber MyPlate recommends limiting refined grains, fruit juice, and vegetable juices, as they have been stripped of their  fiber. Smoothies and pureed soups are better choices as their fiber has been chopped but not removed.

vitamin water = 6 sugar cubes in 20 oz

2½ sugar cubes in a cup – 6 cubes in the bottle

Another major recommendation is to limit added sugar to less than 10% of calories or 10-12 tsp of sugar for most of us. Even healthy looking beverages like vitamin water can be loaded with sugar. See my post on sugar in drinks for more information. When you look at a food label 5g sugar is the same as a teaspoon of sugar.

Milk is not consumed in some parts of the world, instead people find their protein and calcium in tofu and fortified soy milk. Soy that is processed with calcium is similar to milk, and is included under the dairy grouping.

Protein is not just meat, fish and eggs. It includes nuts, legumes and tofu. A half cup of legumes can count as either a serving of vegetables or a serving of meat. Tofu is either a serving of dairy or protein, you pick where you need it!

Sample Menu Plan

Here is a sample menu for a 2,000 calorie diet using MyPlate. This plan was done to give you an idea of what a day’s diet might look like.

Breakfast:

  • 1/2 cup orange juice – 1 fruit, juice
  • 1 cup milk – 1 milk
  • 1/2 cup blueberries – 1 fruit
  • 1 cup oatmeal – 2 whole grain
  • coffee with 1 tsp sugar – 1 tsp added sugar

Lunch:

  • 2 cups of green salad – 2 green leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup carrot sticks – 1 orange vegetable
  • 1 cup soy milk – 1 dairy
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter- 1 meat
  • 2 tsp jelly – 2 sugar allowance
  • 2 slices whole grain bread – 2 grain
  • 1 large apple – 2 fruit

snack:

  • 1/2 can soda -4 tsp added sugar

Dinner:

  • 4-5 oz salmon filet
  • 1 cup rice – 2 servings refined grains
  • 1/2 cup cooked yams – 1 orange vegetable
  • 1/2 cup broccoli – 1 leafy green vegetables
  • 1/2 cup black beans – 1 legume vegetable
  • 1/2 cup ice cream – 1 milk – 3 tsp added sugar

As you can see this is not the usual American diet. Both lunch and dinner feature mostly vegetables. And we can’t even fit in the whole can of soda without overshooting the 10 tsp sugar allowance.

I’m not suggesting you plan all you meals using this diet plan. It is intended for institutional meal planning. What you can do is look at how it differs from your diet and try to:

  • Add more vegetables
  • Select more foods that have not been processed to remove their fiber
  • Try for different forms of protein, not just red meat.
  • Limit sweetened beverages and other sweets
  • Anything that makes your diet closer to this one

You can’t change the world or your diet in one day. Chose one thing that is easy and try that. Let me know how that worked I love to hear about small successes.