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Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Dr. Andrew Weil has researched nutrition worldwide and he tracks the latest science. His new book is True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure. He appeared recently on the NPR program A Splendid Table, hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Every week, we hear different information about what’s good for us and what’s not. How do you evaluate all of this?

Andrew Weil: I organize an annual conference on nutrition and health for clinicians. We bring the leading nutrition researchers together to present their findings. What I have seen is that, in the group of nutrition researchers, there’s a very high degree of consensus on all the big questions. For example: topics such as what defines an optimum diet, what are good fats, what are bad fats, what are good carbs, what are bad carbs.

Somehow, that consensus information is not making it into the training of health professionals, and it certainly isn’t making it into the media and to the general public.

People think it’s totally confusing out there and throw up their hands and say, “You may as well just eat anything.” That’s not the way it is. We really know a great deal about what is good for you, what is not good for you and how diet correlates with health.

LRK: You know what the next question is: What are they?

AW: If you look around the world, the two traditional diets that have the best correlation with health and longevity are the traditional Japanese diet and the Mediterranean diet. The traditional Japanese diet is not very exportable, except to Japanese restaurants. It’s very labor intensive and has a lot of strange ingredients in it.

But the Mediterranean diet is easily adaptable. People like it, and I’ve used that as a template for my anti-inflammatory diet. The essence of the Mediterranean diet is lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, little meat (except on feast occasions), but plenty of fish, which are sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Olive oil is a main fat, whole grain products, sugar in moderation, red wine if you like that. That’s a diet that’s easily appealing to many people.