However, after much study, I have found only one potential health benefit that the Mediterranean diet might offer over the benefits offered by a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet. And the studies supporting that hypothesis are not conclusive at this point. The potential benefit is in the eating of cold water (fatty) fish. Fatty fish provide long-chain omega-3s directly to the body; whereas, with a plant-based diet these important omega-3s can only be gotten from the body's conversion of short-chain omega-3s that exist in some plant foods. This conversion process is inefficient, however, and it takes a considerable amount of short-chain omega-3s to convert into a small amount of long-chain omega-3s. And to come even close, you need to generally be conscious of eating the right plant foods, like walnuts and flaxseed, in sufficient quantities to get the benefit after conversion (quantities that are large enough that they can make you fat by the way). But again, the studies involving the eating of fish are not conclusive, and the decision to eat fish or not needs to also weigh the risks of doing so, which includes small amounts of mercury poisoning and lack of sustainability in fish populations.
Regarding the other big component of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil, I have found no benefit to adding it to my diet. Some believe that it helps with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. However, it could actually be harmful to try and help this absorption along. These fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body's fat. Consequently, unlike water-soluble vitamins that are excreted from the body, it's possible for fat-soluble vitamins to build up in the body to toxic levels. This can happen from taking vitamin supplements as well as from eating fortified foods containing fat-soluble vitamins. Adding fat into the diet can result in more efficient absorption which could potentially lead to a toxic level of these vitamins.
It's also noteworthy that the fat content of the plant-based foods containing these fat soluble vitamins is sufficient to help us absorb these vitamins. Therefore, there is no compelling reason to add fat to our diets in order to get the fat soluble vitamins.
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat. So, are peanuts and avocados. Next time, you have the urge for a monounsaturated fat, try some raw, unsalted peanuts or half an avocado instead.
In summary, my thoughts on the Mediterranean diet are:
- It's main benefits probably come from being plant-based. And that should be the focus of anyone following the Mediterranean diet for health reasons.
- Eating fish may provide some cardiovascular health benefits that a whole foods, plant-perfect diet would not necessarily provide in sufficient amounts. While there is compelling supporting evidence to support this, the studies to date have not been conclusive, and the benefits need to be weighed against the risks as well.
- There are no identifiable health reasons for necessarily adding olive oil into a person's diet.
And that's my take on the Mediterranean diet.