All over the world, there exists the myth of a “Healthy Mediterranean Diet,” which everyone is urged to emulate for the sake of their arteries.
The Mayo Clinic (which always makes me think of Mayonnaise, anyone else?) says on its website:
“Mediterranean diet: Choose this heart-healthy diet option”
A cursory search on the Internet will reveal hundreds of other websites, books and newspapers extolling this diet’s health virtues, too.
Of course, all this Mediterranean Diet mythology originated from the British middle class dream of retiring early and going to live on their own vineyard in Tuscany. Britain is full of men who fantasise about becoming a Mediterranean Man, who comes home from work at midday for a delicious lunch eaten under the grapes hanging off his pergola, sloshes down a couple of glasses of his own red wine (no more Chateau Cardboard vintage for him!), and spends the rest of his lunch break shagging his wife in seven different positions like a true Latin Lover. Then he heads back to work for another three hours of lazily chatting in fluent Italian with his vinyard employees about how picturesque the lemon orchard looks at this time of year. Go on admit it, you’ve thought about that, haven’t you?
Middle class muesli-eating British newspaper The Telegraph has printed a truly staggering barrage of articles, proclaiming that the Mediterranean diet is so healthy it just might keep you in busines as a gigolo well past your 100th birthday, whistling while you work for the sheer joy of having clear arteries and gallons of cholesterol-free semen. They have variously claimed:
Mediterranean diet can help women get pregnant
Mediterranean diet extends life by up to three years
Mediterranean diet as good as statins
Mediterranean diet can reduce risk of depression
Mediterranean diet cuts risk of heart disease
I am here to debunk this twaddle using impeccable logic, and incontrovertible photographic evidence.
Here comes the logical part.
When you look into the research behind this diet, you discover that what all the “studies have found” was based on a study of about six people, five of whom were still taking their statins and viagra during the Mediterranean Diet experiment anyway.
The food you are told to eat on the Mediterranean Diet isn’t what Mediterranean people actually eat. It’s what north Europeans and Americans like to imagine they eat.
The Dr. Oz Mediterranean Diet shopping list contains foods so far removed from the real Mediterranean diet that not only are they unobtainable here in the Mediterranean, but it is also impossible to find anyone here who knows what they are. He advises such items as whole wheat tortillas and hanger steak – even I don’t know what they are. He recommends kale, which doesn’t grow in the Mediterranean. He advocates canola oil; when I asked for canola oil in my local supermarket a few years back, they suggested I try the hardware store. Oz even dares, I said DARES, to suggest whole wheat pasta.
I once served whole wheat pasta to my husband, Mediterranean Man, when we were in England (they don’t sell it in Italy).
“What the heck is this muck?” would be a loose translation of his reaction. He didn’t eat it. He wouldn’t even taste it.
The most staggering inclusion of all in the Dr. Oz list is chilli powder. I dare you to give an Italian something with chilli on it: they will never speak to you again, and they will bring up their children and their children’s children to kill your children and their children upon sight in a spectacular vendetta that lasts unto the seventh generation and beyond. I am pretty sure the origin of the endless feud between the Montagues and the Capulets of Verona had something to do with chilli.
The real Mediterranean diet is about as healthy as a Big Mac with a side order of fries. What the real Mediterranean Man eats is stir-fried paella and potato omelette swimming in butter in Spain; pasta, pizza, lasagne and flab salami in Italy; and in Greece, back in the good old days, moussaka, and strange lumps of lamb that taste of armpits. (Nowadays, many Greeks are eating whatever scraps they can lay their hands on, and going hungry, since of course starving is far better for them than dropping out of the Euro.)
The level of obesity and diabetes in Italy is simply shocking. That is what happens if you dedicate your life to being a devout Pastafarian, and eat a diet that is 90% carbohydrate, 40% fat and 20% caffeine.
Now we come to the photographic evidence.
The main claim for this diet, according to the Mayo Clinic, is that “Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease.”
EXHIBIT ONE: Here’s a photo of my husband, Mediterranean Man, reducing his risk of heart disease by deep-frying some lovely Mediterranean-grown courgettes:
The Mayonnaise Clinic advises “Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods”. This brings me to….
EXHIBIT TWO: This close-up detail will also show you that lashings of salt are indispensable in the authentic Mediterranean diet. My husband has already got through half the barrel of salt, and it’s only mid-morning.
The Mayo Clinic asserts that a vital component of the Mediterranean Diet is “Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil”.
EXHIBIT THREE: This is absolutely true. All Sicilians know olive oil is so healthy that the more of it you can eat, the better. In my household, we’re so healthy that a one-litre bottle of olive oil never lasts more than a week.
The Mayo clinic advises “Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month.”
EXHIBIT FOUR: This is half true. My husband, like all sensible Sicilians, limits red meat. He limits it to no more than a few times a week. About 4 or 5 times a week. However, on the other days, one needs to substitute this with alternative healthy foods. Yesterday a friend gave him a suspicious-looking parcel from the butchers.
The packaging looked relatively non-commital…
…but when I opened it, my worst suspicions were confirmed. The gift was a solid two-pound lump of adipose tissue from the belly area of a pig. Basically, the butcher had carried out a porcine tummy-tuck and given the offcuts to my husband for dinner. Please note, however, that it is 100% salt free and instead flavoured with wholesome Mediterranean black pepper.
When I registered complaints about this shocking slab of flab in my fridge, hubby said I could instead have some low fat salami which he had just bought. Italians love salami. As you can see from the sparse distribution of white globules in the photo, they are health-conscious enough to produce a low-fat version which contains no more than 35% fat.
The Mayonnaise clinic, like all other proponents of the Mediterranean Diet, advises “Drinking red wine in moderation (optional).”
EXHIBIT FIVE: There is no exhibit five, because Mediterranean Man simply doesn’t drink red wine more than once a year, at Christmas. Italians rarely drink alcohol and, when they do, they drink tiny weeny amounts. I think the main reason for this is that, when the sun is shining “hot enough to split rocks” (as the Sicilians say), a glass of wine will give you an instant headache.
What Italians actually drink is thimblefulls of coffee, so black and dense you can also use it to polish your shoes. This happens spontaneously, after they’ve drunk so many cups of it that their hands are shaking from all the caffeine and they cannot help spilling the last cupful upon their Gucci footwear.
The whole basis of the claim that you should have red wine with your Mediterranean Diet is that it is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Proponents of this diet ignore the fact that you can get over a hundred times more of these substances by eating a handful of fresh grapes. Italians don’t eat grapes very often, though, for they prefer making them into wine to export to Britons and Americans who want to follow the Mediterranean Diet.
Well, ladies and gentleman of the jury, I rest my case. Next time someone mentions the healthy Mediterranean Diet to you, remember that slab of flab in my fridge, and set them straight.