The case for EVOO
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the oil of choice in the classic Mediterranean diet, as well as the Pesco-Mediterranean diet. EVOO is used for cooking vegetables, in salads (with vinegar), and in sautéing fish.
However, olive oil quality is crucial, which makes it expensive. EVOO has a low smoke point and can quickly turn rancid if used in high heat cooking.
The reason EVOO is so crucial to the health aspects of a Mediterranean diet is it retains the components of olives which are believed to underlie many of EVOO’s heart-healthy benefits (such as reduced LDL-C cholesterol and increased HDL-C cholesterol and a lower diabetes risk. (Source: American College of Cardiology)
Why are nuts and legumes important to a Pesco-Mediterranean diet?
Nuts are typically high in fat and calories and they are the main obstacle for me in losing weight on the Pesco-Mediterranean diet. That is not to say they aren’t healthy, however! Nuts and legumes are two of the food types that are common to the diet of the five regions of the “Blue Zones”, a worldwide study that analyzed the criteria for healthy longevity.
Although the ACC study states that a generous intake of nuts and/or legumes does not promote weight gain because of increased satiety and incomplete digestion, I have not found that to be true anecdotally. Nuts were the main culprit in preventing weight loss for me personally, but also for many of my previous clients I coached as a diet and health coach.
No doubt that nuts are healthy, however, and if you are choosing this type of lifestyle for health rather than weight loss, tree nuts can be beneficial.
Legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, etc.) can be a healthy protein substitute for red meat and processed meats, especially if you do not like to cook fish. Consumption of legumes has been linked to improvements in blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight.
Dairy and eggs
There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus in the nutrition field on the benefits of dairy products to overall health. They are allowed in the Pesco-Mediterranean diet, with an emphasis on fermented versions of dairy like yogurt and soft cheeses. If you have a sensitivity to dairy, you can abstain from it.
Eggs are allowed in the Pesco-Mediterranean diet; egg whites are unlimited and preferably no more than five yolks/week.
The relevance of whole grains
In contrast to most of the popular low-carb diets, whole grains, such as barley, whole oats, rye, corn, buckwheat, brown rice, and quinoa, are an integral part of the traditional Mediterranean diet.
Most of the low-carb and keto diet approaches do not allow grains of any sort, based on causing an insulin response. I have followed a low-carb and keto approach for many years now, so this idea of eating grains is anxiety-producing to me. I am being quite cautious while experimenting with the Pesco-Mediterranean diet, and keeping grains, even whole grains, to a minimum.
Even if the grains do not result in weight gain, there are many people today who must eat gluten-free. The inclusion of grains as an “allowed food” in the Pesco-Mediterranean diet doesn’t mean it is a necessity by any means. (The same is true for dairy if you have a problem with dairy.) A great meal plan of fish, legumes, plant-based foods, and EVOO, accompanied by intermittent fasting is a perfectly sustainable (and delicious) lifestyle.
The ACC explains the inclusion of grains like this:
“Pasta is an example of a starchy food that has a low glycemic index despite being a refined carbohydrate. In the context of a low glycemic index dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet, pasta does not adversely affect adiposity and may even help reduce body weight and there is no evidence that pasta promotes cardiometabolic risk factors.
White rice is associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus in Asians but not in Western cohorts, possibly because it is cooked and served plain in Asia and in Western cultures cooked in mixed dishes with vegetables and vegetable oil including EVOO.”
Beverages compliant with a Pesco-Mediterranean diet
The standard for beverages on any weight loss or healthy lifestyle seems to be consistent across the board:
- Water, which can be flavored but not sweetened.
- Tea or coffee (unsweetened).
- Dry red wine daily: 6 oz for women and 6–12 oz for men, consumed with meals.
Except for water, these are also optional and whether you include them will depend on any other sensitivities or practices you prefer.