The Mediterranean Diet pyramid has adapted to the new way of life
The new model takes into account qualitative and quantitative elements for the selection of foods.
The traditional Mediterranean Diet (MD) pyramid has evolved to adopt the new way of life. As an initiative of the Mediterranean Diet Foundation and with the collaboration of numerous international entities, a wide range of experts in nutrition, anthropology, sociology and agriculture have reached a consensus in a new richer design with the incorporation of qualitative elements. The new pyramid follows the previous pattern: at the base, foods that should sustain the diet, and at the upper levels, foods to be eaten in moderate amounts. Moreover, social and cultural elements characteristic of the Mediterranean way of life are incorporated in the graphic design. So, it is not just about prioritizing some food groups from others, but also paying attention to the way of selecting, cooking and eating them. It also reflects the composition and number of servings of meals.
The health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet and its protective effect against chronic diseases has been well established by the scientific community. This new pyramid includes all the food groups; it is in the proportions and the frequencies that relies a healthy or unhealthy diet. This food consumption pattern is addressed to a healthy adult population and should be adapted to the specific needs of children, pregnant women and other health conditions.
The pyramid places at the base foods of plant origin, that provide key nutrients and other protective substances that contribute to general well-being and to maintain a balanced diet. For these reasons, they should be consumed in greater proportion and frequency than foods located at the central and upper levels of the pyramid. The latter should be eaten in moderation and left for special occasions.
The pyramid establishes dietary daily, weekly and occasional guidelines in order to follow a healthy and balanced diet.
The three main meals should contain three basic elements:
- Cereals. One or two servings per meal in the form of bread, pasta, rice, couscous and others. Preferably whole grain, since some valuable nutrients (magnesium, phosphorus, etc.) and fibre can be lost during processing.
- Vegetables. Presents at lunch and dinner; more or equal two servings per meal, at least one of the serving should be raw. A variety of colours and textures provide a diversity of antioxidants and protective compounds.
- Fruits. One or two servings per meal. Should be chosen as the most frequent dessert.
- A daily intake of 1.5 to 2 litres of water should be guarantied. A good hydration is essential to maintain the corporal water equilibrium, although needs may vary among people because of age, physical activity, personal circumstances and weather conditions. As well as water, non-sugar rich herbal infusions and broths (with low fat and salt content) may complete the requirements.
- Dairy products. Prefer it in the form of low fat yogurt and cheese. They contribute to bone health, but can also be an important source of saturated fat.
- Olive oil is located at the centre of the pyramid; should be the principal source of dietary lipids because of its high nutritional quality. Its unique composition gives it a high resistance to cooking temperatures and should be used for cooking as well as dressings (one tablespoon per person).
- Spices, herbs, garlic and onions are a good way to introduce a variety of flavours and palatability to dishes and contribute to the reduction of salt addition. Olives, nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy lipids, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fibre. A reasonable consumption of olives, nuts and seeds (such as a handful) make for a healthy snack choice.
- Respecting religious and social beliefs, a moderate consumption of wine and other fermented beverages (1 glass per day for women and 2 glasses per day for men, as a generic reference) during meals is recommended.
- A variety of plant and animal origin proteins should be consumed. Mediterranean traditional dishes do not usually have animal origin protein foods as the main ingredient but as a tasty source.
- Fish (two or more servings), red meat (two servings) and eggs (two to four servings) are good sources of animal protein. Fish and shellfish are also good sources of healthy fats.
- Consumption of red meat (less than two servings, preferably lean cuts) and processed meats (less than one serving) should be in smaller quantity and frequency.
- The combination of legumes (more than two servings) and cereals are a healthy protein and lipid source. Potatoes are also included in this group, as they are a part of many traditional recipes with meat and fish (more or less than three servings per week, preferably fresh potatoes).
In the vertex of the pyramid are represented the sugary and unhealthy fat rich foods (sweets). Sugar, candies, pastries and beverages such as sweetened fruit juices and soft drinks, should be consumed in small amounts.
Together with the proportion and frequency recommendations of consumption, the incorporation of lifestyle and cultural elements is one of the innovations of the pyramid. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and preserving the cultural elements should also be considered in order to acquire all the benefits from the Mediterranean diet. These elements are:
- Moderation. Portion sizes should be based on frugality, adapting energy needs to urban and modern sedentary lifestyles.
- Cooking. Make cooking an important activity taking the proper time and space. Cooking can be relaxing, fun and can be done with family, friends and the loved ones.
- Socialization. The aspect of conviviality is important for the social and cultural value of the meal, beyond nutritional aspects. Cooking, sitting around the table and sharing food in company of family and friends is a social support and gives a sense of community.
- Seasonality. The preference for seasonal, fresh and minimally processed foods maximizes the content of protective nutrients and substances in the diet. Whenever possible take into account traditional, local, eco-friendly and bio-diverse products to contribute to the preservation of the environment and Mediterranean landscapes.
- Activity. Regular practice of moderate physical activity (at least 30 minutes throughout the day) as a basic complement to the diet for balancing energy intake, for healthy body weight maintenance and for many other health benefits. Walking, taking the stairs versus the lift, housework, etc, are simple and easy ways of doing exercise. Practising leisure activities outdoors and preferably with others makes it more enjoyable and strengthens the sense of community.
- Rest. Resting is also part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
This pyramid is a result of international consensus and is based on the latest scientific evidence in the of health and nutrition published in hundreds of scientific articles in the last decades, thus contributing to the harmonization of educational tools used in the promotion of the Mediterranean Diet and responds to the need for a common framework among Mediterranean countries.
The use and promotion of this pyramid is recommended without any restrictions and has been translated and is available in Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Euskera, French, Arabic, Italian, Portuguese and Greek.
The supporting entities of the new design of the Mediterranean Diet pyramid are:
Fundación Dieta Mediterránea
Forum on Mediterranean Food Cultures
Hellenic Health Foundation
International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
Università Politecnica delle Marche
Federation of European Nutrition Societies
Federation of African Nutrition Societies
Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea
Centre International de Hautes Études Agronomiques Méditerranéennes
International Union of Nutritional Sciences
Centro Interuniversitario Internazionales di Studi sulle Culture Alimentari Mediterranee