Mediterranean Diet: Better, Not Best?

Gayl J. Canfield, PhD, RD


March 19, 2013

In This Article

Editor's Note: The author is Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, Florida.

Mediterranean Diet Better Than Typical American Diet

In light of the recent media attention on the Mediterranean diet,[1] you may find yourself fielding lots of questions from patients about which diet they should follow. Right now, we cannot say which diet is best because we still need rigorous studies of all of the popular diets that physicians routinely recommend to their patients. Moreover, we cannot unequivocally recommend the Mediterranean diet on the basis of the recently published study because this study was seriously flawed.

One major problem with the study was that the "low-fat" diet being used to compare against the Mediterranean diet was not, in fact, low in fats. The participants in this group started out with a diet that averaged 39% fat, and during the study period they decreased fat intake to just 37%.

Nor was this so-called low-fat diet a healthy, well-designed regimen. Many of the foods eaten by participants were artery-damaging foods such as red meat, commercially baked goods full of refined flour and fat, sugary sodas, and low-fat cheeses. (Though called "low-fat," these cheeses typically get 35% to 60% of their calories from fat.)

Moreover, the "low-fat" diet excluded an important food proven to protect against heart disease: omega 3-rich fish. This category of food is included in many healthy low-fat-diet plans.

The bottom line is that the study authors were not really comparing a Mediterranean diet with a nutritious low-fat diet. It would be much more accurate to say that they were comparing a Mediterranean diet with a typical American-style diet. But it did not do justice to a well-constructed low-fat diet.