- Monday, April 27 2015
The Mediterranean diet is a complete nutritional and balanced diet, combined with ancient culinary traditions, a healthy lifestyle and the culture of respect and sharing.
In order to present the everyday diet of Mediterranean communities, dieticians, doctors and nutritionists elaborated the food pyramid, a practical and precise instrument to indicate optimal food intake. The pyramid is based on the division of foods according to their ranking amongst nutrient groups necessary for the body, as well as their allocation according to the daily quantity of servings advised. The base of the pyramid holds the foods that make up the foundation of the diet to be consumed on a daily basis, it then moves its way up to the crown, which indicates the foods to be consumed on a moderate basis, on special occasions.
Plant-based foods packed with key nutrients are found at the foot of the Mediterranean diet food pyramid, which guarantee a balanced diet, thus they should be consumed more often and in generous quantities: cereals (one or two portions per meal with pasta, bread, rice, couscous or other, preferably wholegrain in order to maintain high nutritive values), fruit (one or two portions per meal), vegetables (for both lunch and dinner, or two portions per meal), rich with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and mineral salts. Furthermore the meals should be accompanied by a vital consumption of water (1.5-2 liters per day) in order to guarantee sufficient hydration and the correct overall functioning of the body. In addition to this, the correct consumption of olive oil is an essential source of lipids, especially extra virgin olive oil, recommended both as a dressing and for cooking.
Moving up the pyramid, we find the foods that should be consumed on a daily basis: low-fat dairy products such as yogurt and cheeses (rich in unsaturated fats), spices, aromatic herbs, garlic and onion (to flavor foods and satisfy the palette avoiding an excess use of salt). Finally, a moderate consumption of wine and fermented beverages (one glass for women and two glasses for men per day, possibly during meals) is advised.
One step higher, we find white meat (two portions), red meat (less than two portions, if possible lean), and processed meat (less than one portion), fish (two or more portions), eggs (from two to four portions) and legumes (more than two portions); the latter includes potatoes, which act as a great side dish together with cereals, which are an excellent substitute for meat. While this central position in the pyramid is important considering the high-protein count (animal and plant-based), the intake frequency of these foods is on a weekly basis as opposed to daily, as it doesn’t represent the principal structure of the Mediterranean diet.
Finally, the top of the pyramid consists of food choices that should only be consumed occasionally, due to a significant amount of sugars and saturated fats, such as desserts, sweets, sweetened fruit juices, and soft drinks, which should be consumed in small quantities and left for special occasions.
These foods and their respective servings do not complete the Mediterranean diet food pyramid, which as a whole incorporates internal social elements that combine a healthy lifestyle and the safeguarding of cultural and environmental factors. In addition to the nutritional indications, other elements merge together to thoroughly savor the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, established as a millennial heritage that unites countries and people, translating into a concrete way of living: socialization and sharing at the table, equivalent to openness, respect and dialogue; moderation in the sense of internal and external balance and self-control; the rich practice of cooking requires love, creativity and dedication; respect for nature’s cycles when picking the best fruit without tampering with the environment; from an alternated physical activity to sufficient rest so as to counterbalance the ever more chaotic pace of nowadays. All of which results in a custom, a prospective and vitality, capable of hindering chronic illnesses and positively influencing quality of life.