The Mediterranean diet is all over the news these days as a model of healthful eating. Although this diet comes in many variations, it’s about consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, moderate amounts of poultry and dairy, and on rare occasions, beef and sweets. And top it off with olive oil. Red wine is also welcome. Because it’s known to lower blood cholesterol, including the LDL (the bad cholesterol) and to provide “healthy fats” (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), it’s touted as an excellent diet that provides cardiovascular benefits.
So is all good? There’s no question that going from a Western diet (high in sweets, fats, red meat, etc.) to a more balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet helps. Cutting down on beef and sweets helps. Consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables helps. Consuming legumes and fiber helps. But people with diabetes need to focus on their long-term health, and that’s where this diet shows a different side.
People with diabetes are more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases later in their life. For that reason, they must be very careful not to consume food that can lead to those problems. Olive oil has about 14% of saturated fat. This is the very same fat from red meat that clogs arteries (red meat is a no-no precisely because of its saturated fat content). Some claim that this is offset by the healthy fats it contains. However, there are some debates as to whether monounsaturated fats are really “healthy”. Sure they are better than saturated fats, but there’s no evidence that they can stop, even reverse, heart diseases. It can be said that they are less damaging than other fats, but that does not make them “healthy”. The same is true for any type of meat, even poultry: they contain fats, and they contribute to heart diseases, only at a slower pace than beef. Fats are also a factor leading to Type 2 diabetes and are linked to some cancers.
It’s now known that cardiovascular diseases can be stopped and reversed by eliminating any extra source of fats from a diet (meat, fish, dairy, nuts) by following a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole wheat (bread, pasta, etc.) Such a diet still provides plenty of proteins and fats, both found in the food consumed, that the body needs. It’s in fact good enough for Carl Lewis, an Olympic medalist! But few are willing to switch from their diet to a whole food, plant-based diet.
The Mediterranean diet has obvious advantages, but it’s far from perfect when it comes to people with diabetes. It might be easier for people to follow it from their current diet, but they should aim to gradually eliminate all sources of fats to avoid future cardiovascular complications.