Take It or Leave It? The Truth About 8 Mediterranean Diet Staples

But while olive oil may indeed be healthier than other fats -- most notably the saturated fats found in meat and synthetic trans fats found in certain baked goods -- pouring too much of it into your diet can be too much of a good thing.

Olive oil is "a heart-healthy fat, to be sure," said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y. "And it has excellent street cred, but there are some limits."

First of all, Ayoob said, olive oil has just as many calories per gram as other less healthy fats. So while it may not clog your arteries, it could have an unfortunate impact on your waistline.

"The more fat you have, the less food you can eat without gaining weight, so if you need volume in your diet, use olive oil but use it modestly," Ayoob said. "Just a thought, so people don't go out and start pouring olive oil over everything and thinking it'll save them."

Fruits and Vegetables

The notion that additional helpings of fruit and vegetables lead to a healthier diet should come as little surprise to anyone who has even had a doting mother. So nutrition experts largely agreed with the researchers when they suggested that the veggie-heavy offerings of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for much of its positive health effects.

"Once again there is clear data that the healthiest foods grow in the ground," said Dr. Mitchell Roslin, director of Obesity Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.



Ayoob agreed. "Mountains of evidence shows that the more [fruits and vegetables], the better, period," he said. "They're loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and they're where you'll find a bucket of vitamins and minerals. The challenge is to eat them every day and preferably at least one at every meal."

Fruits and vegetables also tend to pack relatively few calories into quite a bit of bulk, along with water and fiber. The upshot is that they tend to be more filling than some other calorie-dense foods -- and thus more amenable to a lower-calorie diet.

"The more you eat of these, the less you eat of other things," Katz said.

But, he added, the considerable contribution of fruits and vegetables to the Mediterranean diet equation may be the very reason why it may overshadow some of the other healthful elements of the regimen.

"Once a diet is heavily based on vegetables and fruits, it becomes tough to show much additive benefit from anything else," Katz said.

Fish and Seafood

Fish and seafood are widely regarded among nutritionists to be among the healthiest of animal proteins. So it may come as a surprise to some that, according to the new analysis, these options do not appear to have much of an overall impact on the healthiness of the diet.

As the researchers note in the study, "high consumption of fish and seafood ... as components of the traditional Mediterranean diet contribute little to the ability of the Mediterranean diet score to predict mortality, at least in this Mediterranean population."



But the notion that these components of the Mediterranean diet may not be as instrumental to its success was one that stirred debate among nutrition experts. Roslin said that he feels the analysis overlooks the fact that wild fish are extremely healthy.

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