Personalized Mediterranean Diets

For the past year or so, I have been eating my interpretation of a Mediterranean diet, albeit with less grains and more eggs than some might choose to eat. It is an overwhelmingly plant-based diet, with about 6 eggs per week and also about 3/4 of a pound of fish and/or chicken thighs. That’s probably about the right amount of fish/chicken if I wasn’t also consuming the eggs, although I have been eating exclusively pasture-raised eggs. By right amount, I am referring to the strictest interpretation of what a Mediterranean diet is. Specifically, the composition that seems to have had the most research supporting it.

Before I go on, I will say that my personal opinion about this is that a Mediterranean diet is a really good starter goal for somebody who wants to change their diet. I also believe it is quite likely that a sizable percentage of people will benefit from a Mediterranean diet that is a bit heavier on animal products and may even include some beef. Others may do just fine with a very small amount of animal products and tolerate whole grains just fine. Others may struggle with whole grains, in which case various yams and other tubers as well as starchy vegetables like winter squash can easily meet one’s carbohydrate needs. 

The specific version of the Mediterranean diet, as eaten by actual Mediterraneans, is very likely one that they are well adapted to genetically and epigenetically. However, looking across cultures, my key takeaway from research on the Mediterranean diet is about the overall composition. Arguably, a traditional Indian vegetarian diet that included some amount of freshly made paneer cheese and liberal amounts of clarified butter as part of an overwhelmingly plant-based diet could be quite healthy for those well adapted to the consumption of dairy products. I would say the same thing about the traditional Chinese diet, although it would likely have included some amount of pork and lard on a regular basis. Again, this would generally be within the context of a primarily plant-based diet.

There’s a number websites that apply the principles of Mediterranean diet to cuisines from across the globe. Although I am on the skeptical side of the fence with regard to single nucleotide polymorphism reports that are all the rage these days, I do think considering one’s true ancestry can be useful in fine-tuning one’s dietary choices. So, perhaps ironically, the main value I find out of a genetic test such as the one I got from 23 and me is what it tells me about my ancestry. Running that raw data through various tools that analyze the single nucleotide polymorphisms to provide dietary guidance has proven essentially useless to me. Among other reasons, not least of which is the fact that the five different tools that I used all produce different results, sometimes diametrically opposed to each other. Numerous journalists have done the same experiment on themselves and made the same discovery.

Most importantly, you need to be flexible in how you apply the principles in order to be successful. Rigid approaches to diet are almost always guaranteed to fail.  I would always rather see somebody on a Mediterranean-ish diet that includes some amount of grass fed beef on a regular basis then to insist that they just eat fish and watch the whole thing fall apart rapidly. I recently developed a tool to help people identify the ideal diet by electronically tracking certain food categories in relation to certain subjective wellness parameters. Check out the SuperOrganism™ Tracker.