The Mediterranean diet is recognized for its health benefits—including reducing risks of heart disease and cancer and extending a healthy life—but it’s widely misunderstood, says Steven Gundry, MD, cardiologist and author of The Plant Paradox. After analyzing the science and spending time in Mediterranean villages to see how people really eat, he’s identified some major misconceptions on our part.
Myth #1: Pasta is a key food
Time and again, Gundry has been told by locals: “The purpose of food is to get olive oil into your mouth.” Small amounts of bread are soaked in the oil (extra virgin, of course), or liberal amounts are poured onto small servings of pasta. “People don’t realize the monstrous amount of olive oil that’s used,” says Gundry, while grain servings are very small. Rosemary and garlic deliver additional benefits.
Myth #2: Fruits and vegetables are staples
Only vegetables, especially leafy greens, are staples. A small amount of seasonal fruit is an occasional treat. Other traditional veggies include tubers such as yams, sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes), turnips, and rutabagas.
Myth #3: Whole tomatoes are beneficial
The seeds and skins of tomatoes contain lectins, hard-to-digest, toxic proteins designed to discourage predators from eating them. In traditional Mediterranean salads and sauces, tomatoes are peeled and deseeded. The same should be done with peppers and other seeded veggies.
Small fish such as sardines and anchovies, seafood, balsamic vinegar, and tree nuts in moderation are other traditional Mediterranean foods. Beans and quinoa, which are seeds, are also high in lectins and should be pressure cooked, says Gundry, to destroy the lectins and improve digestion.
Blanch or briefly roast tomatoes—peppers, too—for quick and easy peeling.