The truth about the Mediterranean diet

Diets come and go. Some are better than others. Some are downright dangerous. One such diet, still highly popular, and the basis for several others, is the Mediterranean diet, which draws upon French research (Lyon Diet Heart Study) centered in Cretan eating habits in the 1950s. Cretans were virtually free of heart attacks and obesity rare, despite more than 40% of their diet deriving from fat, or mostly olive oil. Otherwise, they consumed mostly fruits, veggies, beans and fish. They also worked very hard in the fields. Unfortunately, Americans got hung-up on the olive oil rather than the preponderancy of vegetables, concluding the oil was good for you.

French scientists experimented with the Cretan diet. Those on the Mediterranean diet suffered 50 to 70% fewer cardiac incidents. Now that’s pretty impressive, enough certainly to foster enthusiasm for the diet.

Today’s Mediterranean Diet, however, has little resemblance to the Cretan diet that formed the basis of the Lyon study. For many of us, it conjures up images of pasta and Italian bread, staples not friendly to your colon. There is more meat and poultry.

As for the experimental group in the study, four years after it began, 25% on the diet had died or experienced a cardiac event. As often happens, media coverage can be as shallow as it is volatile. So much for the success of the Mediterranean diet. The truth is that olive oil is one of the most calorically dense and fattening foods you can consume. On a pound for pounds basis, it’s worse than butter (3200 calories) vs olive oil (4,020). Moreover, 14 percent of olive oil is saturated fat. Since it can lead to weight increase, it can also increase LDL (the bad kind of cholesterol).

There is evidence that monounsaturated fat, found in olive oil, gives some protection from strokes. Nevertheless, because of its caloric density, only thin people should consume it, if at all. (See D. D. Blankenhorn, et al. ”The Influence of diet on the Appearance of New Lesions in Human Coronary Arteries.” Journal of the American Medical Association, Mar. 23, 1990.)

The brilliant Cornell epidemiologist who wrote the landmark, China Study, while acknowledging that the Mediterranean diets were virtually the same, commented, “I would say the absence of oil in the rural Chinese diet is the reason for their superior success“ (qtd. In Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, p. 84).

The upshot in all of this? If you want to eat healthy, minimize disease, control weight, and foster longevity, then a a plant-based diet is your best bet.

Oh, about the Cretans, they now eat like most of us and, like most of us, now suffer similar rates of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer.

And they say baseball’s boring?

This weekend saw the renewal of baseball’s fiercest rivalry in the clash of two perennial powers, the Yankees and Red Sox. On Friday, night the two teams of the American League East were tied for first. Living up to its billing, the first game ended up in a hard fought pitching dual that saw the Yankees eking out a 3-2 win.

That made for a bleak outlook for the Sox in Saturday’s contest, when they would be pitching lack-luster John Lackey against 16-game winner CC Sabathia. Why show up?

But as often occurs when these gargantuans wrestle, anything can happen, and Lackey, supported by Boston’s famed hitting machine, pitched well enough in his six innings to set up a Red Sox win, 10-4.

The teams again deadlocked for first, momentum now favored the Sox in the rubber game, with ace Josh Beckett taking the mound against Freddy Garcia, a dismal 0-2 and 10.13 era this season against the Sox. But Garcia pitched well, allowing just 1 run in 5 innings.

In the 7th, the score tied at 1-1, veteran Sox reliever Matt Albers let one slip, serving up a homer to Gardner, the Yankees now taking the lead, 2-1.

At this late stage, the lights were beginning to dim for Red Sox Nation with baseball’s best reliever, Mariano Rivera, in the wings.

Having been through this before, I opted to go to bed. Minutes later, I heard my wife from the other room shouting,”Tied game!” Scutaro had scored from third in the 9th on Pedroia’s sacrifice fly. Rivera had blown the save! Once again, we had the future Hall of Famer’s number.

In the 10th, after Sox reliever Bard’s return to form, the Yankees countered with starter John Hughes. With one out and two on, rookie Josh Reddick, 0 for 4, lined a ball into the left field corner, sending substitute runner Darnell McDonald home from 2nd base. Game over!

Whew, what a game!

And some people say baseball’s boring?

The kidnapping of a nation

Many are doubtless giving a sigh of relief at the apparent compromise in DC, resulting in the lifting of the deficit ceiling and avoidance of the first-time ever debacle of a U. S. unable to honor its debts. The terms of this deal, however, may turn out worse than insolvency, the cure worse than the disease.

1. Who are the winners?

Clearly this is a victory for the Tea Party wing of the Republican party, with its insistence on a balanced budget, meaning spending cuts, and no increase in taxes. While they had also resisted raising the deficit ceiling, it represents their only instance of compromise.

2. Who are the losers?

President Obama: Americans may not perceive it this way, but it’s the President, who blinked, despite initially insisting on a package that would raise taxes for those earning more than $250,000 a year. We should have gotten wind of this pattern when at the end of 2010 he caved in to Tea Party demands of not raising tax revenue in exchange for extending unemployment compensation.

Democrats: This agreement curtails the New Deal/Great Society mandates foundational to the Party’s outreach to the indigent, working poor, and middle class. Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, social mainstays for many, will see cuts, even as inflation increases and medical costs escalate. Cuts will affect our National Parks, environmental safeguards, education, etc. The costs in lost revenue to the States is yet to be reckoned in. As Steven Cohen, Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has it: “All of President Obama’s brainpower, charisma and speaking skills have not translated into clear, crisp, leadership. Instead, I see just another calculating, poll-driven politico. His re-election campaign dominates his Presidency.” Huffington Post Politics, Aug.1, 2011.

Republicans: The GOP will be the primary recipient of public rage in the 2012 elections for their subservience to their Tea Party wing. Ironically, the GOP faces a high probability of the Tea Party running as a third party in 2012, should Republicans nominate a more moderate conservative such as Romney.

The average American: Ironically, our down economy, now into its third year, requires more cash infusion, not less, as a temporary means to stimulating the market place. Had the present legislation been in effect at the outset of the Great Recession in 2008, a hand-cuffed president would not have been able to bail out Chrysler and General Motors, for example. Three years later, these companies have paid back their loans and added 150,000 workers. Making spending cuts are likely to put out whatever blue embers there are, plunging us this time into world depression on a scale paralleling the 1930s.

3. Are there other consequences?

The worst is yet to come. As you’re probably aware, this agreement calls for a Super Committee composed of six Republicans and six Democrats to suggest further budget areas for cutting. If the Committee stalemates or the Congress balks, automatic cuts will ensue. Not only will entitlement programs be targeted as major areas for cutting, but the Defense Department as well, potentially hazarding our national security. What we lose is our flexibility to respond to crisis, whether economic or military.

This imbroglio hasn’t really been about cutting spending. It’s been ideological, a small core of die-hard conservatives operating as an insurgency to overthrow big government. Holding our country hostage, they have been quite willing to shove Americans over the cliff unless their ransom gets paid.

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