Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mainstream Media vs The Mediterranean Type Diet (MTD)

People in the Low Carb community often vent their anger at the portrayal of Low Carb Diets in the media. Low carb is not all bacon, burgers and brie, as Dr Dean Ornish would have us believe. Yet these same folks who ooze vitriol at the inaccurate picture of Low Carbing are more than willing to accept the media's description of the much vaunted MTD. The typical description of the MTD consisting of mostly whole grains and low fat this that and the other is no more accurate than the media's popular picture of low carbing.

If one were to actually look at the diets of the people the MTD is based upon, you find that there is little evidence to support the low fat myth. Low fat or fat free cheese and yogurt just did not exist. The people ate real cheese, generally an ounce or two a day. The yogurt would have been the full fat custard kind like Fage, not the runny stuff available in most supermarkets today. The single biggest item to contribute to tier daily calories was olive oil. These folks got 20 - 25% of the daily calories from olive oil alone.

While it is true that bread, beans, and grains are a part of the MTD, when one looks at the portion sizes of said items, it becomes clear that Modern America, and circa 1960 Crete and Sicily bear little resemblance in understanding what constitutes a portion. To put it in contemporary serving sizes, They would have eaten about 2 slices of bread, 1/2 -2/3 thirds cup each of beans and cous cous or pasta. About what you expect in a typical phase 2 of South Beach or while in The Zone. A far cry from what we are currently presented with as ideal.

What they really constituted the bulk of tier diet was a variety of vegetables. On average 6 cups cooked plus 4 cups raw. To this add 2 or three pieces of fruit, 3 oz of fish/seafood, an egg or two, and some nuts. Coffee wine, beer and sprits of local origin would have rounded out the day. Red meat was very expensive at the time, and lack of access to it was a chief complaint among those interviewed. So it was generally reserved for the meal at weekend family dinners.

The most important part of the MTD, that we seldom hear of in the news is the lifestyle portion. Anyone who has ever traveled can tell you, they live a different life "over there". Even though it is starting to westernize, Strong family, community, and cultural ties are part of what defines life on the Mediterranean. To this add mandatory vacation, shorter work weeks, unlimited unemployment benefits and guaranteed access to health care. Unlike most of the U.S., walking and riding a bicycle is a reasonable choice of transportation for many of life's daily activities. At the time of the early surveys gas was in shortage and rationed, and cars were prohibitively expensive for most. Even now, the price of a gallon of gasoline is $8-10 on average thru out the region, so walking to and from public transportation is still common.

These Areas were still recovering from the horror and ravages of World War 2 when the survey was taken. The diet reflected the economic realities of post war Europe, and was not necessarily one of choice. The biggest mistake we see when the mainstream media portray the MTD as a panacea, is the separation of diet from lifestyle. As a Healthy Eating and Activity Pattern, (HEAP), the MTD is an exemplar of one possible solution, but it is by no means the only solution. The diet in and of itself is certainly an improvement over the Standard American Diet, but without the lifestyle portion of the equation, it falls short.

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