Comparing LCHF and the Mediterranean diet
By Helen Kilding and Grant Schofield
We’ve been hearing quite a lot about how healthy the Mediterranean diet is. So what is it, and how does it compare with the Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) approach that we talk about on here? How different are they and why would you choose one over another?
Let’s find out.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is characterised by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of animal products like dairy, red meat, processed meats, sugar and sweets; and wine in moderation and consumed with meals.
The LCHF diet is characterised by a high intake of natural fats (including olive oil, but also other healthy fats such as butter and coconut oil), a similarly high intake of vegetables, but limited fruit and no cereals. Why limited fruit? Fruit is nature’s candy, with a medium sized apple containing the equivalent of 3 teaspoons of sugar. Sure, in it’s natural form, fruit is a good source of fibre and some vitamins, but so too are vegetables, and with less of the sugar hit.
And why no cereals? Well despite what we’ve been lead to believe, there is no good reason to eat cereals, even wholegrain. The fibre argument and the vitamin and mineral argument just don’t stack up – a plate of salad or veggies packs a much bigger and better fibre and vitamin/mineral punch than any cereal. And whether we need more fibre in our diet is debatable anyway. But cereals are cheap and highly lucrative. The corn industry has a lot to lose if/when the truth gets out. As Christine Cronau (author of The Fat Revolution) nicely describes, “a breakfast of eggs and butter is packed full of Vitamins A, B, D, E and K, along with iron, zinc, calcium, lecithin, iodine and more. Adding some unrefined salt adds a further 84 minerals and a fried tomato a healthy dose of vitamin C”. Beat that cereal!
The fact is humans are not adapted to consuming cereals and they are full of toxic anti-nutrients (lectins, gluten and phytates) that we don’t have the ability to deal with. Lectins bind to insulin receptors and the human intestinal lining and cause leptin resistance, which as regular readers of this blog will know, accelerates metabolic syndrome independently of obesity. Gluten (found in wheat, rye and barley) might be even worse and certainly is more widely known. Around 1% of the population are celiacs (completely intolerant of gluten) but it’s not just celiacs who suffer the damaging effects of gluten. And finally phytates, make the very minerals that whole grains and cereals supposedly provide us with, bio-unavailable. Awesome!
But getting back to our comparison, a moderate intake of fish and poultry is common to both diets, as is a low intake of processed meat, and wine in moderation. So the last big difference really is in the red meat, cheese, eggs and sugar. Whereas the Mediterranean diet supports low intake of all four, LCHF promotes unlimited consumption of meat, eggs and cheese and no consumption of sugar.
The health concerns around meat and eggs, particularly in relation to cholesterol, are unfounded and indeed animal proteins and fats, like eggs and butter, contain many of the nutrients missing in modern Western diets. With the Mediterranean diet, around 25-35% of calories come from fat (8% or less from saturated) compared to around 70-80% on LCHF. With the latter, the body learns to use fat for fuel instead of sugar (read more about fat adaptation here). If fat intake is too low, this cannot occur, so regardless of whether you are carbohydrate sensitive or not, if you want to become a fat burning machine, for endurance performance, weight management or improved cognitive function, LCHF rather than the Mediterranean diet is the way to go. Remember though, fat intake should only be high if carb intake is low – high intake of both is not OK!