Monday, April 4, 2011

Does the "Mediterranean Diet" Really Exist?

Every Saturday, a fleet of cars and trucks pulls into a windswept parking lot just off the Mediterranean. Under flapping white awnings, women slit open eggplants the size of a large man’s thumb and stuff them with a mix of chopped garlic, red peppers and walnuts. This is Souk el Tayeb, the farmers’ market that has helped make Beirut a hot destination for globe-trotting foodies. But if you want to see how the new generation of Lebanese really wants to eat, you have to go somewhere else. You have to go to Roadster Diner.

Roadster is a chain of 1950s-Americana restaurants. Its original motto, “There goes my heart,” evokes both Elvis and his artery-clogging diet. The Roadster in my Beirut neighborhood had a life-size statue of a grinning black man with huge white teeth singing into a microphone. Unlike the strenuously authentic Lebanese restaurants beloved by tourists and visiting food writers, Roadster’s nine retail franchises across Lebanon are always packed with locals.

In Europe and the United States, the so-called Mediterranean diet — rich in olive oil, whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables and wine — is a multibillion-dollar global brand, encompassing everything from hummus to package trips to Italy, where “enogastronomic tourism” rakes in as much as five billion euros a year. Studies at Harvard and elsewhere correlate the Mediterranean diet with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and depression. In America, health gurus like Mehmet Oz exhort followers to “eat like a Greek.” But according to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Mediterranean people have some of the worst diets in Europe, and the Greeks are the fattest: about 75 percent of the Greek population is overweight.

So if the Mediterranean diet is not what people in the Mediterranean eat, then what is it?

Find out by reading the rest of the article here.

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