Mediterranean Diet—more confusion over clarity


Implying that olive oil and fish protect against heart disease

Much better than the S.A.D. but sending the wrong message about olive oil and fish.

Much better than the S.A.D. but sending the wrong message about olive oil and fish.

No doubt everyone has heard about the big news story that broke on Monday—the one telling us the following message about lowering our risk of heart disease. From the New York Times article (see link below):

About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.

No doubt the Mediterranean Diet described in the study is more healthful than the Standard American Diet. For most people, the diet probably derives twice as many calories from whole plants as the S.A.D. But it would probably only score a 1Leaf at best on our 4Leaf scale—meaning that the diet would deliver between 20 and 39% of its calories in the form of whole plants.

No doubt, an improvement over the American average of less than 10% of calories from whole plants to 20% or more would be a big step in the right direction. The study indicates that you can lower your risk of heart disease by 30% with the Mediterranean Diet. But why don’t they tell us what doctors Esselstyn, Ornish, McDougall, Barnard and Fuhrman know? Why don’t they tell us exactly what the near-optimal diet is and how it can lower the risk of heart disease by nearly 100%.

Jim Hicks introduces Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

Jim Hicks introduces Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

Confusing message. In my opinion, the study and the news blitz that followed—is doing more harm than good for the average reader. People are going to hear that olive oil is good for their heart and that fish should also be a routine part of a heart-healthy diet.

They even say that you should use meat, dairy and eggs sparingly—but they don’t come out and say to eliminate those products. The article quoted Dr. Esselstyn toward the end:

His views and those of another promoter of a very-low-fat diet, Dr. Dean Ornish, president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, have influenced many to try to become vegan. Former President Bill Clinton, interviewed on CNN, said Dr. Esselstyn’s and Dr. Ornish’s writings helped convince him that he could reverse his heart disease in that way.

Dr. Esselstyn said those in the Mediterranean diet study still had heart attacks and strokes. So, he said, all the study showed was that “the Mediterranean diet and the horrible control diet were able to create disease in people who otherwise did not have it.”

Leveraging the simple, yet powerful concept of maximizing the percent of your calories from whole plant foods -- still in nature's package

Leveraging the simple, yet powerful concept of maximizing the percent of your calories from whole plant foods — still in nature’s package

For me, I like to keep things simple and tell them Dr. Colin Campbell’s version of the near optimal diet—the foundation of 4Leaf for Life, “The closer we get to eating a diet of whole, plant-based foods, the better off we will be.”  Some people will be able to consistently get closer than others; hence the four levels of the 4Leaf scale—from 1Leaf to 4Leaf.

Back to Dr. Campbell’s definition, olive oil and fish are not whole plants. They are both high in fat and, in the case of fish, a seafood diet for all 7 billion humans is simply not possible. How can we recommend that everyone in the world consume a diet that the planet is not capable of providing?

Dr. McDougall weighs in (2-25-13 email news message). I believe the reason this New England Journal of Medicine study shows benefits is because the people in the Mediterranean diet group reduced their intake of meat and dairy foods and increased their intake of starches (cereals and legumes), vegetables, and fruits. The inclusion of olive oil and nuts was not a “magic pill” that spared their ailing arteries from forkfuls of bacon and eggs.

However, the reader should consider these findings of this study important because they do show that people can change their diets when instructed to do so and that removing animal foods from the diet is beneficial. But recommending more olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish is not the message people deserve to hear. They need to know that a truly healthy diet provides the bulk of the calories from traditional starches, like rice, corn, and potatoes. Commercialism needs to be eliminated when life and death issues for you and your family are at stake.

Finally, a 10-minute olive oil segment by Dr. Michael Klaper

Want to find out where you stand on our 4Leaf scale? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com

International. We’re now reaching people in over 100 countries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or get daily blog notices by “following” us in the top of the right-hand column. For occasional updates, join our periodic mailing list.

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

SHARE and rate this post below.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
This entry was posted in 4Leaf for Life, Heart Disease and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Mediterranean Diet—more confusion over clarity

  1. ########### Santa Maria Times, Letter to Editor, sent eve, March 2, 2013 ###########

    A diet that bests “Mediterranean”

    Referring to your Feb. 28 health section article on “Mediterranean Diet,” healthy lifestyle experts have evaluated this poorly-designed study, plus they have commented on news writers’ badly-reported articles.  Go to drmcdougall.com (40 years of healing patients via “Total Health Solution Education”), hpjmh.com, and heartattackproof.com.  

    These studies were supported by the olive oil and the nuts industries, and the comparison “low fat” 37% of calories from fat diet, was not a low fat diet!  

    Much, much better health-promoting results come from eating mainly plant-based, whole foods, with calories from fat ranging from 8% to 20%.

    Dr. McDougall’s evaluation concluded with “However, the reader should consider the findings of this study important because they do show that people can change their diets when instructed to do so and that removing animal foods from the diet is beneficial. But recommending more olive oil [junk food = empty calories], nuts, seeds, and fish is not the message people deserve to hear. They need to know that a truly healthy diet provides the bulk of the calories from traditional starches, like rice, corn, and potatoes. Commercialism needs to be eliminated when life and death issues for you and your family are at stake.”

    Bill Kleinbauer
    Orcutt CA

    ########################################

    805/938-1405
    988 La Serenta Court
    Santa Maria CA 93455

    ( or: Olive oil is junk food or Olive oil is not health food )

    REFERENCES:

    McDougall News Flash – New Study Promotes Olive Oil and Dismisses Low-fat Diet =

    http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013other/news/oil.htm

    Mediterranean Diet—more confusion over clarity | J. Morris Hicks, author =

    https://hpjmh.com/2013/02/27/mediterranean-diet-more-confusion-over-clarity/

    ################
    OTHERS MAY LIKE TO WRITE TO THEIR PAPERS. YOU CAN USE THIS AS A GUIDE — IT IS HARD TO BOIL A LETTER DOWN AND TO BE EFFECTIVE!

  2. CJ says:

    Jim, interesting post, I really like Dr. Esselstyn’s work and book. Great to see your take on this topic. Hope we’ll get to see your NYC presentation video soon!

  3. MY COMMENT TO THE LA TIMES ARTICLE ON THIS:
    http://discussions.latimes.com/20/lanews/la-heb-mediterranean-diet-low-fat-20130225/10?logout=true
    ::::
    maule5662h at 10:53 PM February 28, 2013

    This is very poor guidance on what is the optimal nutrition for best health —  once again!  Get what the healthy lifestyle experts have to say about this poor, or badly-reported study.  Go to drmcdougall.com and heartattackproof.com  — Dr. Esselstyn, and hpjmh.com  —  J. Morris Hicks.

    These studies were funded by the olive oil and the nuts industries, the reference “bad diet” was not a low fat diet!  Go to a low fat nutrition based on plant-based, whole foods and get much, much better results!

    Dr. McDougall concluded with “However, the reader should consider these findings of this study important because they do show that people can change their diets when instructed to do so and that removing animal foods from the diet is beneficial. But recommending more olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish is not the message people deserve to hear. They need to know that a truly healthy diet provides the bulk of the calories from traditional starches, like rice, corn, and potatoes. Commercialism needs to be eliminated when life and death issues for you and your family are at stake.”

  4. WRONG CAPTION. Regarding Monday 25 February 2013 “Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke” New York Times feature story:

    Newcomers to this important timely area of inquiry can easily get succinct clearly-worded fact-based essentials by searching “Ornish, McDougall, Esselstyn, Barnard, Campbell, Greger, Harris” et al. Below is MY take.

    “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” George Orwell in Adelphi (January 1939)

    CAPTION WAS WRONG. SORRY. With all respect to the cheerful good-looking nice-talking couple featured in the New York Times video, an HONEST more accurate fact-based informative caption would have read:

    “Is our touted ‘Low Fat Diet’ ( with 37% fat calories ! ) better than a ‘Mediterranean Diet’ ( with 39% fat calories ! ).” Is this good news?

    Skeptics of the merits of this ‘breakthrough’ in creative statistics MAY be suitably impressed at the fat fellow (with a nice smile, at that) carrying around one of Europe’s largest baskets of olives. $ $

    Easily impresssed viewers of this creative report should stay tuned for a NYT report: “Smokers have less lung cancer” featuring a “control group” smoking only three packs a day versus those smoking four. You can count on other United States Popular media for more “health” news of similar caliber. $ $

    SERIOUS readers should google SOME of the six million “Philip Morris International” hits. But, take frequent breaks. Learn basics of “Free Enterprise” Corporate Creativity. $ $ Those born in last century may remember clever “Cigarettes are not addictive” testimony. SURE.

    Their product causes 5 MILLION DEATHS A YEAR according to the CDC.
    Investors need not worry. Their product line has now expanded into junk foods. This enhances Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital’s profitability. Beyond plant closings, tobacco and junk foods – a boon to Bane. From Mitt Romney’s recent campaign we heard: “I don’t eat junk food.” He is in decent shape.
    To be fair and balanced, we get similar comments from Rummy et al. $ $

    Beyond his Monsanto, Big Pharma, and “defense” connections, Donald Rumsfeld continues to astonish as a heavy-hitter with Big Tobacco. $ $

  5. WOULD IT HELP FOR YOU AND OTHERS TO WRITE TO THE TIMES EDITOR?

    After sending below to the Times, in reading Dr. McDougall’s critique, I appreciated his identifying the surrealism in the so-called “low-fat” group getting 37% of their calories from fat! How low can you get? In very sloppy reporting, that is. WHEW.
    FAT being a MARKER for animal protein should be widely understood by now.

    Full text of my “THE” letter to the New York Times is below:

    After how our USA Newspaper of Record covered The American War (before Pentagon Papers) and how Richard Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and George Bush were given a pass over Iraq fiasco, the Times owes penance to readers in more TIMELY truth-telling on key issues. Sooner rather than later. Your 20 February 2013 Michael Moss article was a step in the right direction. I’ll soon have related book in Kindle and audio formats.

    But, with all respect, I’m very disappointed in the Times “Mediterranean Diet” feature from 25 February 2013. Your Repeating the above phrase with abandon confuses.

    NOT AGAIN ! HERE WE GO AGAIN. The? It’s an extreme disservice to readers and tantamount to committing statistical suicide to toss around extreme vague verbiage such as “The” Mediterranean Diet and “The” Low-Fat Diet – when both areas of inquiry encompass extreme variations in calories from fat and animal protein. Precision is lacking. 5 – 20% of calories is low fat. 30% or so is NOT. US averages go over 30%. Comparing 40% with 30% (“low-fat”) reminds me of Tweedledum and Tweedledee – with apologies to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. It’s nearly worthless.

    Yes. Using “Low-Fat” as a simplistic descriptor is worthless when coming from entities who call 30% caloric fat “Low Fat.” Honest discussions of correlations and causation should avoid such common illogic. Honest meaningful numbers needed.

    For example, the A.H.A. has repeatedly called 30% of calories from fat intake as “Low-Fat” – which is ABSURD. Beyond pop culture, students of Optimal Nutrition 101 should study work of Doctors Ornish, Campbell, Esselstyn, McDougall, Greger, Harris, Fuhrman et al. They clearly explicate in detail with fact-checked essential citations.

    Michael Greger’s Nutrition Facts website is a gold mine for serious seekers of truth.

    A.M.A. being bankrolled by Big Pharma helps explain the AHA “moderate” position.

    As explained in the China study, dietary fat intake is often an animal protein MARKER strongly CORRELATED with a host of common problems, starting with cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. But correlation is not causation. 3 million hits are only seconds away. This concept is often ignored when discussing olive oil “merits.” Also, less bad diets should not be taken as optimum models. PLEASE.

    For an introduction to some important essentials on dietary fats, search “Healthy Librarian” and “I’m going to miss my Olive Oil” and “Brachial Artery Tourniquet Test.” Using the above search phrases takes only seconds and yields fact-checked findings. Go beyond pop culture “safe” platitudes that may give much of our “SAD” a pass. Using plain English search phrases may help avoid URLs errors.

    SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND.

  6. Anne says:

    Oh, how much I needed to hear this message. Thank you for reinforcing what I know to be true. Sometimes these studies aim for comfusion and self doubt. That is why we need to keep hearing from you.

    Anne

  7. billkranker says:

    J.

    I have been advising people to steer clear of the Mediterranean diet for a long time mainly because of the high fat. I think too often people look mistakenly to the old country (Greece, Italy) as examples of long living people when in fact they have some distinct differences to the US. First, these people get a lot of exercise. They walk, and work manually much more that we do here. Second, they still use a lot more unprocessed ingredients in their food. Fresh tomatoes, eggplant, celery etc.. So in spite of their high fat intake they do resonably well. But when this diet is translated to the US with lower levels of exercise and more processed food contents it becomes a health nightmare. This report has done a huge diservice to the uninformed populus who will now have been given “permission” to use gallons of olive oil and fatty meats because the media said it is “healthy”. You are 100% correct, more confusion over clarity again.

    Bill K.

    Bill

  8. Nathan says:

    There were 2 excellent reader comments on the article I feel are worth repeating:
    First is this revelation that the diet was only better for those who are obese:
    “The beneficial effects apply only to people with a BMI over 30 (severely overweight [obese]). For BMI less than 30, outcomes are actually worse compared to the control diet.”
    Next the researcher’s list conflict of interests:
    “Serving on the board or receiving grants or lecture fees from the Research Foundation on Wine and Nutrition (FIVIN); the Beer and Health Foundation; the European Foundation for Alcohol Research (ERAB); California Walnut Commission; Unilever; International Nut and Dried Fruit Council; Danone, Nestlé and PepsiCo.; and finally, the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.”

    Not an inspiring list of entities know for their dedication to science, health, or anything other than their own private profits.
    I was impressed that they even quoted Esselstyn, but they forgot to mention that he stopped or reversed heart disease in 95% of his already sick patients: vs this study’s paltry 30% reduction in the number of healthy individuals becoming sick

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s