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Mediterranean Diet Pyramid 101: Basic Principles

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid 101: Basic Principles

  • October 28, 2020
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It’s often said that the Mediterranean Diet more than just a list of foods that you should eat, but that it is is also a way of life.

This holistic approach was first captured in the now-famous ‘Mediterranean Diet Pyramid‘ that was developed by the Oldways Preservation Trust, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the World Health Organization back in 1993.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

Interpreting the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

The base of the Mediterranean Diet pyramid is made up of various groupings that include many vegetables, fruits, and cereals (preferably wholemeal), as well as plant oils.

Extra virgin olive oil should ideally be consumed raw, together with garlic, onion, spices and herbs, with are the best condiments for a vast number of Mediterranean-style dishes.

Going up a level towards the middle of the pyramid, we find some other good fats in addition to those of oils that are provided by nuts and legumes, that they recommend we consume between 1 – 3 times a day.  

As we get towards the top of the food pyramid we find the foods that we should not be consuming not every day, but weekly: they are those that mainly provide proteins, among which we should favor fish and legumes with at least two portions a week each, poultry 2-3 portions a week, eggs 1 to 4 a week, and cheeses a couple of times a week.

Milk and low-fat derivatives (such as yogurt) fall into the penultimate section that should be consumed in relatively small quantities 1 – 2 times a day. 

At the top of the Mediterranean Diet pyramid, there are finally the foods to be consumed with relatively strict moderation: two portions or less per week for red meats while processed meal(cold cuts, salami, etc.) should be consumed even more sparingly (one portion per week).

Finally, desserts and processed sugars should be consumed as little as possible.

Getting Your Energy

Our energy needs vary according to each individual’s metabolism, as well as based on what we eat (i.e. some foods require more energy to be “broken down”), and also due to age and daily physical activity.

We get our energy from macronutrients (such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and in order to ensure you are following a ‘balanced diet’ they should be distributed according to the following rough-splits:

  • 45-60% of Carbohydrates
  • 10-12% of Proteins
  • 20-35% of Fats

The Research to Back It Up

The Mediterranean Diet is a nutritional model inspired by the traditional eating styles of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Scientists from all over the world have been studying it since the 1950s and it still to this day remains among the best diets that have a positive influence on the health of those who follow it.

The first observational study on the Mediterranean diet, which was known as the “Seven Country Study”, was conducted by the American biologist and physiologist Ancel Keys in which the diets adopted by the United States, Italy, Japan, Finland, Greece, Yugoslavia, and the Netherlands were compared.

The results of this study did not leave many doubts: the more we departed from the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, the higher the incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

The eating style identified by this study, and by many other types of research that followed it, is based on the prevalent consumption of foods of plant origin such as cereals and derivatives (wholemeal pasta and bread), legumes, fruit, vegetables, and extra virgin olive oil. It includes moderate consumption of animal products such as meat, dairy products, and fish.

So there we are – I hope this has been a useful introduction to the Mediterranean Diet pyramid!

Suggested reading for you next: The Mediterranean Diet 30-Day Challenge: Is It Right for You?

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