The Mediterranean diet and the standard American diet are almost polar opposites of one another. While the Mediterranean diet is high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, the average American diet is high in refined carbohydrates, sugars and red meats. However, the majority of calories consumed in both of these diets comes from fat. In Mediterranean diets, monounsaturated fats are typically consumed, which do not raise cholesterol levels like the saturated fats consumed in the typical American diet.
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The phrase "Mediterranean diet" refers to the common dietary patterns among the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. While diets differ between countries and regions, the traditional Mediterranean diet emphasizes a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and spices. The main type of fat in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil, an important monounsaturated fat source. Poultry and dairy products like cheese and yogurt are consumed in moderate amounts, almost daily, while fish and seafood are eaten about twice a week. Small amounts of red meat are occasionally eaten.
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet's reliance on fresh foods means there are lower amounts of hydrogenated oils and higher amounts of fiber and other essential nutrients. Also, because most of the fat comes from olive oil, nuts and fish, this diet contains very little saturated and trans fats and large quantities of omega-3s. Furthermore, because of the wide variety of spices available, salt is not a heavily used seasoning. The diet's combination of high fiber, omega-3s, unsaturated fats, essential nutrients, and low sodium levels seem to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Standard American Diet
With little emphasis on fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the average American diet tends to rely heavily on processed foods, refined carbohydrates, fried or fast foods, red meats, sugars and high-fat dairy products--all of which contain saturated or trans fats and sodium. Furthermore, since this diet tends to be low in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, this diet can lead to deficiencies in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients essential to good health.
Dangers of the Standard American Diet
Common ingredients of the typical American diet include high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, white sugar, bleached, enriched flours, food dyes, artificial flavors and many other chemical additives. This is one of the reasons this diet has been deemed unhealthy by health communities. This diet tends to lead to and increase the risk of certain health problems including obesity, nutrient deficiencies, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and certain cancers, according to the Diets in Review website.
Another big difference between the Mediterranean and American plans is exercise. The average American's lifestyle tends to be more sedentary, where exercise is not a priority. While getting a gym membership is not necessarily a requirement for a Mediterranean diet, the Mediterranean people tend to be much more active then their American counterparts. This likely stems from cultural differences, such as not having to rely on cars as a main source of transportation.