The New York Times Is Telling Us What To Eat. Should We Listen?
Updated: Mar 2
Last week, The New York Times published an article raving about the so-called "Mediterranean Diet" and its wonderous effects on health.
The article boasted that the diet is the "bedrock of virtuous eating" and "provides a balanced blend of nutrients."
Let's examine these assertations.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet selects principles of Mediterranean eating and transforms them into a legalistic diet. It was initially popularized in the 1950s by researcher Ancel Keys
when he sought to prove that saturated fat caused heart disease.
According to Keys' findings, heart disease rates were lower in the Mediterranean region because saturated fat consumption was minimal.
People in places like Crete would eat more olive oil and fish (low in saturated fat) than butter and red meat (high in saturated fat).
Since the 50s, this idea of Mediterranean eating has framed how we view food and health. Its core tenet – asserting that saturated fat is harmful – is the basis of American nutrition.
It is the prevailing nutritional science that is taught to doctors, nurses, dieticians, personal trainers, and nutritionists – the entire healthcare system.
And yet, it is deeply flawed science.
Misconceptions of the Mediterranean
When the American health establishment depicts Mediterranean eating, it is portrayed as though foods high in saturated fat are eaten sparingly. Fruits, veggies, and grains are cherished, while red meat and butter are evaded.
Outlets like The New York Times continue reiterating this idea of Mediterranean eating. As written in last week's article, a typical day of the Mediterranean Diet is described below:
"Breakfast might be smashed avocado on whole-grain toast with a side of fresh fruit and low-fat Greek yogurt. For lunch or dinner, a vegetable and grain dish cooked with olive oil and seasoned with herbs — roasted root vegetables, leafy greens, a side of hummus and small portions of pasta or whole grain bread, with a lean protein like grilled fish."
Seems authentic, right?
But as pointed out by the astute readers of The New York Times, this is the American version of Mediterranean eating. Take a look at some of the comments below:
Hundreds of comments further shed light on America's misconception of Mediterranean eating. As one commenter says, "You guys [The New York Times] are falling into the romantic Italy trap."
Simply put, the Mediterranean Diet is an American-made diet.
Sure, there is truth to it. Mediterraneans eat plenty of fish, olive oil, and grains. But they also eat plenty of red meat and full-fat dairy. (Have you ever had a nonfat cheese pizza, a Gryo made without lamb and tzatziki, or a bolognese made with ground turkey instead of beef? If so, I'm genuinely sorry for your loss).
Problems with the Mediterranean Diet
Even though it's built on a false premise, does the Mediterranean Diet provide a "balanced blend of nutrients" as it suggests in the article?
Since the diet calls for foods like red meat, eggs, and dairy to be eaten rarely, nutrient optimization is unattainable, and nutrient deficiency is almost guaranteed.
When a diet restricts animal foods, supplementation is essential. And when nutrient supplementation is essential, the diet is proven inadequate.
For example, vitamin b12 is essential for synthesizing DNA and forming red blood cells. Humans cannot live without vitamin b12. And interestingly, b12 is only found in animal foods.
And not only are there nutrients exclusive to animal foods, but most nutrients are far easier to absorb via animal foods than plants.
For instance, a cup of cooked spinach and a 6oz steak contain similar amounts of iron, but our ability to uptake/utilize the iron from the steak is decidedly superior.
Therefore, the Mediterranean Diet is not the "bedrock of virtuous eating" as The New York Times claims.
The Mediterranean Diet is a diet framed by American scientists who had the fixed mindset of believing that saturated fat = death.
This, of course, is a theory that has proven to be false. From Kenya to the Philipines to Germany, animal foods and saturated fat have been a staple for human survival and flourishing health.
So to The New York Times, why are you showing so much hostility towards saturated fat? Why are you team plant-based when health necessitates meat?
As Taylor Swift sings, it must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero.