Weight Watchers Diet as healthy as the Mediterranean Diet? Really? That’s what U.S. News says.

usnewsI wrote about this very issue last year as well and here we are again. For the past 3 years US News ranks several diets with the help of several nutrition and health experts. They rate diets in a variety of categories. Since this blog is about the Mediterranean diet I’ll talk about that: For best diet overall the Mediterranean diet came in 3rd place along with Weight Watchers and the Mayo Clinic diet. The Mediterranean diet came in 4th for best heart healthy diet and 8th for diabetes.

I was surprised once again to see these rankings. Obviously this is not a research paper that requires strong methodology, even so, the article is flawed and provides incorrect information.

Τhere are 2 problems here:

1. You cannot compare a commercial program such as Weight Watchers with a traditional eating pattern that has existed for hundreds of years.

2. It appears from the reviews and from the article as it was written that they don’t really know what the Mediterranean diet is. That’s the only explanation for such skewed reviews. For example the Mediterranean diet is characterized as moderately expensive. It is not. In the article (which by the way is the exact same one as last year) it says that fresh produce, fish and nuts can be expensive, and the typical Mediterranean menu that they provided included salmon. As I have mentioned before the Mediterraneans did not eat salmon because there was no salmon in that area, but they did eat cheap fish like sardines and anchovies. And fresh produce? That is expensive? Compared to what?

I mentioned this in my older post but let’s look again at the U.S. News nutrition tips for the Mediterranean diet: “Can’t spring for the $50 bottle of wine? Grab one for $15 instead. And snag whatever veggies are on sale that day, rather than the $3-a-piece artichokes.” This is completely inaccurate. We need to clarify that the Mediterranean Diet  was based on the diet people were following in the Mediterranean in the 60’s. These people were poor, they ate mostly plant foods. Contrary to what is implied, the Mediterranean diet is not about drinking expensive wine and feasting on expensive non-local fish such as salmon. They did not spend 50$ on wine (or 5$ for that matter), and they ate artichokes only when they were in season. They usually drank the cheap retsina wine, or their own homemade wine or tsipouro a strong distilled spirit, and ate only fruits and vegetables that were in season and local (most likely from their garden or their neighbor’s garden or from their village). The experts in the article failed to mention that one of the main sources of protein were beans such as lentils, which we all know are pretty cheap, and what about the fact that they hardly ate meat? Isn’t that a money saver?

Another wrong fact is that according to the standard menu of a Mediterranean diet that they used, the Mediterranean diet came short for potassium and calcium. Wrong again. The Mediterranean diet that was associated with all those health benefits was based on the diet of Greece and Southern Italy. Both of these countries use tomato in almost every recipe, most meals are vegetable based and fresh fruit and dried fruit is plentiful, all excellent sources of potassium. The sample menu of the Mediterranean diet that was used does not represent the true Mediterranean diet. An obvious point: it does not list olive oil not even once. Almost everybody knows that olive oil is the basis of the Mediterranean diet. Many of its benefits come from olive oil but also from the interaction of olive oil with other foods. As for calcium, not much cow’s milk in the Mediterranean diet but plenty of cheese and yogurt from goats and sheep.

Other comments include having a Greek gyro… I am sorry to say this, but Gyros was not part of the traditional Greek-Mediterranean diet.

The diet also had a somewhat low score for diabetes. Not sure why, even though studies have shown benefits and the diet is full of whole grains, nuts and vegetables and hardly any processed carbs.

There is no doubt that the reviewers are experts in their fields, however it can be difficult to judge and review a traditional diet that you are not familiar with and based on a simplistic menu.

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