The Mediterranean Diet: Why This Old-School Way of Eating Is Still the Best


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We talked with nutritionist and gut specialist Stella Metsovas about the Mediterranean Diet’s newfound popularity, why fat is your friend, and more.–Lauren Sherman (@lapresmidi)

Lifestyle Mirror: Why do think there’s a renewed interest in the Mediterranean Diet?
Stella Metsovas: In the past five years, a rise in social networking has innovated how humans connect with one another. Take, for example, the world of Pinterest. You have endless selections of Mediterranean diet recipes that are getting repined at least 3 – 5 times on average per user. Combine these recipes with thousands of research-backed studies on Mediterranean foods, and you have a win-win dietary template to teach the world. Most recipes are very easy to follow; the ingredients are minimal, and best of all, the food tastes really good. I believe there is no other “diet” as effective to showcase in being the most healthful.

LM: There was a big story in the Wall Street Journal last weekend that was sort of an ode to fatty foods. While we shouldn’t be eating bone marrow every single day, fat is good for you, right? Why are we afraid of fat?
SM: I’ve had this conversation all too often and wish fat wasn’t considered the enemy. People fear fat, mainly, because of its calorie density. What they might not realize is how you physiologically use calories from fat versus protein or carbohydrate. The body has this innate way to store energy dependent on your lifestyle choices. If you live by 2013 standards (i.e., being sedentary), carbohydrates can actually keep you from burning fat by saturating the fat cell. This happens when your liver and muscle tissue are full to capacity with glycogen. Clean burning fatty acids help to keep you full longer by adjusting hormone levels to respond better to one another. Word of caution: keep a watchful eye on serving sizes of fat. Even though quality fats are healthy, don’t go overboard.

LM: A lot health-conscious folks are also following a gluten-free diet. Do Mediterranean and gluten-free go hand-in-hand?
SM: The media has a strong influence over consumer buying preferences. Elisabeth Hasselbeck reached millions of Americans by announcing she had celiac disease back in 2008 on The View, making “gluten-free” a household term. Do I believe this way of looking at food is necessarily healthy? No. I view the world of vegetarians and vegans similarly because all three (gluten free, veganism, vegetarianism) rely on processed food products. The correct way to be free of gluten containing foods is to consume complex carbohydrates coming from vegetables and low allergenic sources like quinoa and rice. If you’re truly making the right purchasing decisions, you won’t get caught up in the false promises of most processed foods, and best of all, you’ll save money.

LM: What are the most important things people should do to improve their diets?
SM: I’d say in no particular order:

  • You are what you eat—pick your foods wisely.
  • Buy foods with one-ingredient, 90% of the time. Examples include: nuts, seeds, fish, kale, homemade meats, poultry, beans, fish, and sweet potatoes.
  • Make a protein dish at the beginning of the week like roasted pasture raised meat to ensure quality intake of the building blocks of life—amino acids!
  • Do not fall for the quick fix. It doesn’t exist. Trust me.
  • Starving your body of calories might initially promote weight loss, inevitably the wrong type of weight. Nine out of ten people would probably say they like a firm/muscular, sleek-body. Your body needs quality sources of calories to build and maintain muscle.
  • Use a pedometer to track your activity throughout the day. You should adjust your carbohydrate intake based on those levels. If you’re between 3,000 – 6,000 steps-per-day, keep your carbohydrates very low.
  • A calorie isn’t just a calorie—the way your body utilizes those calories are key to health and longevity. The source of calories should be right inline with how you purchase the ingredients that fuel your body. Pick foods rich in quality fats, protein and clean burning carbohydrates.

LM: What’s the difference between the diet you advocate—the Paleo Mediterranean diet—and the traditional Mediterranean diet?

I became very fascinated with evolutionary biology back in 2009 when I attended my first Nutrigenomics conference at UC Davis. The diet of our great ancestors has led research to a profound conclusion: humans really haven’t changed much. We are trying (physiologically) to adapt in a world filled with environmental toxins, superbugs, processed foods, stress and so on. The result is that more degenerative diseases occur, and we’re finding it begins very early on while a woman is pregnant. I combined the evolutionary principles of Paleolithic nutrition along with the best diet known to mankind—the Mediterranean diet. Paleo-Mediterranean uses the traditional diet found in the villages of southern Europe. Where the Paleolithic research comes into play is the type of ingredients to select for optimal nutrition. There are still flaws in the Mediterranean diet, and the Paleo-evolutionary aspect solves that.

To read more on Mestovas’ take, visit Paleomediterranean.com.