Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

The Mediterranean diet pyramid is a visual representation of the traditional dietary pattern followed by people in the Mediterranean region. It is a guide explaining Mediterranean food traditions and lifestyle; a kind of reminder of what exactly and how often you should eat. You can even drink some wine while looking at this picture.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

The Mediterranean diet pyramid was developed by the non-profit organization Oldways in collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health. Like everything that looks like comics, it was made in the USA. 

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid Is Your Guide to Mediterranean Diet Basics 

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid consists of the following layers:

The base layer emphasizes the importance of regular physical activity and social interactions, which are considered integral parts of a healthy lifestyle.

The second layer includes fruits and vegetables (as diverse as possible), whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs, spices and olive oil as the primary source of fat in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and is used for cooking, dressing salads, and flavoring dishes. These foods form the foundation of the Mediterranean diet and are consumed in abundance. These are foods that we should eat every day, maybe even several times a day.

Vegetables are at the bottom of the Mediterranean diet pyramid because they are the most important. Dietary fibers in vegetables and fruits are adsorbents that maintain the necessary composition of microflora in the intestines and protect the body from oncology.

Interesting fact: the darker in color, the more antioxidants. Also, you can see beans, whole grains, olives, seeds, nuts, herbs, garlic and onion.

Extra virgin olive oil is a must, it is the basis of the basics and the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil, rich in oleic acid, and essential for health, is considered the basis of the Mediterranean diet pyramid because it is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids that protect your heart and blood vessels.

Another reason why olive oil is a staple of Mediterranean cuisine is that it can be consumed daily, with every meal. You can add it to almost all meals, not only for health benefits but also for enriching your dinner with new flavors.

Just one point: Don’t buy a bottle just because it says “Extra virgin olive oil”. It is very hard to distinguish real olive oil from a poisonous mixture.

For the brightness and richness of the taste of dishes, you should use spices. It has been proven that adding just 6 grams of herbs and spices to the daily diet improves the elasticity of blood vessels. Bright notes of spices make familiar dishes tastier without overdoing them with harmful salt.

One floor above are foods that should be eaten at least two times a week. It’s fish and seafood, ideally directly from the sea if they are still there. Did you know that our children are the last generation to have access to wild sea fish? Yes, unfortunately, we ate everything.

If you live far from the Mediterranean, you don’t have to worry about fish varieties. Any marine fish, especially fish from the northern seas, is a rich source of high-quality protein, minerals, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout, and sea bass are real treasures for our health.

Not all of us live by the sea, but we always have access to frozen and canned fish and seafood. Yes, they are inferior in taste to their fresh counterparts, but they are no less useful.

The next brick of our pyramid is poultry including chicken and turkey, eggs, dairy and cheese which provide important nutrients like calcium and protein.

They say we should consume it all in moderation, from once a day to once a week. The value of fermented milk products is that with the help of fungi and bacteria, part of the milk sugar is processed in it, which, with age, is poorly absorbed by many. 

These products have anti-inflammatory properties and lower blood pressure, while eating yogurt reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, improves mood and helps fight depression. 

Finally, on the top of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, almost inaccessible shelf, they have placed products, which should be eaten even less often than all other food. The fifth layer recommends limiting the intake of red meat including processed meats as well as sweets and desserts. These foods are considered less healthy and should be consumed sparingly.

Lokkum, Tiramisu, Crema Catalana, Macarons, Fougasse Monegasque, Baklava, Soutzoukos, Kanafeh, Halva… It seems the Mediterranean diet has been reinvented at Harvard. Mediterranean people would never hide these desserts that far! 

Red meat is not recommended to be included in the diet more than once a week. In Sardinia, where a large number of centenarians live, peasants traditionally ate meat just a few times a year. Italian-American physiologist Valter Longo studied the phenomenon of local longevity using the latest technology. In his opinion, the main thing is not to overeat animal protein, the breakdown products of which activate DNA damage in the body, bringing the development of cancer closer. 

Sausages should be included in the diet even less frequently. The International Agency for Research on Cancer warns that regular consumption of just 50 grams of processed meat a day increases the risk of developing colon cancer by 18%.

As for wine, the Mediterranean Diet pyramid suggests moderate consumption of wine, particularly red wine, with meals. Wine is often enjoyed as part of the Mediterranean diet due to its potential health benefits, although it’s not essential and should be avoided if it conflicts with personal preferences or health conditions. Here you can read more about the health benefits of moderate wine consumption.

How Often Should You Eat Following a Mediterranean Diet?

Another principle of nutrition is that meals should not be too frequent and plentiful. This is stated by a colleague of Walter Longo, a professor at the University of Calabria Giuseppe Passarino. Our habit of multi-course dinners and snacks in between also shortens life (although it probably makes it tastier).

There should not be many calories, and the body should take 6-8 hour breaks without food, during which self-healing processes are launched.

Ideally three meals a day at the same time. With the constant presence of food in the body, the insulin-like growth factor IGF-1 is formed, which provokes DNA damage and accelerates the development of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

There are no taboos in the Mediterranean diet. Here they love jamon, salami, Parma ham, chorizo pork sausages and live long at the same time. Even centenarians allow themselves all meat delicacies, but not more than once a week, preferring more expensive products.

Sausages and other excesses should be consumed only in combination with vegetables. The fiber, which vegetables are rich in, passes through the intestines and removes all unnecessary nutrients from it, reducing bad cholesterol and creating a good nutrient medium for beneficial microflora. In addition, vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidants that prevent the development of inflammatory processes.

It is important that the Mediterranean diet does not even exclude pastries and sweets, but it is better, of course, to minimize them in the diet. 

How to Switch to the Mediterranean Diet? 

The Mediterranean diet is probably the only one that has proven its effectiveness and is scientifically based, so it can be recommended as a permanent nutrition system. 

However, you shouldn’t change your eating habits too drastically, especially if the diet is not distinguished by thoughtfulness and lightness. To begin with, it is worth giving up sweets and products containing hidden salt and sugar – sauces, juices and yogurts with additives. 

The next step is to increase the amount of vegetables and fruits by adding them to every meal. Along the way, it is worth reducing the consumption of red meat (especially processed) and pastries. But you can eat fish often and as much as you like.

As practice has shown, it is not difficult to follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet. The main thing is to introduce them gradually and not fall into fanaticism. 

In general, the Mediterranean diet is not a diet, but a style of eating that can be followed, not only living in the Mediterranean. You just need to follow some simple principles and remember that food can and should be both tasty and healthy.

And now let’s look into the basement of this pyramid. We can see happy Mediterranean people dining with family, walking and playing sports. 

What did the authors mean by this? Two things: move more and never eat alone. Yes, this is really important. No diet will help a person who spends the whole day lying on the couch and eating fresh vegetables in front of the TV. 

So, eat healthy Mediterranean food with your family and friends, dance and play football, and may the force be with you! 

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