Mediterranean Food Pyramid
An alternative to the traditional food pyramid is the Mediterranean food pyramid.
Based on a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, wholesome fresh produce, and plenty of whole grains.
The Mediterranean food pyramid was developed because scientists have observed that the incidence of certain chronic diseases is much lower among Mediterranean populations than in other parts of the world.
This has been most noticeable in the Greek and Southern Italian cultures where people often live well into their 80s and 90s free from many of the diseases that plague other Western populations.
Mediterranean people seem especially able to escape the ravages of heart disease and cancer.
Studies have been unable to identify a single food item that is responsible for this remarkable record. Instead, scientists and nutrition experts have found that it is the overall approach to diet that is so successful. The Mediterranean food pyramid represents that diet in proportions similar to those of Mediterranean cultures.
So what exactly are the foods in the Mediterranean food pyramid?
The foundational level of the pyramid is physical activity – which, okay, is technically not a food, but is the foundation for good health.
On the food bottom layer are whole grains, bread, pasta, polenta, couscous, rice and potatoes.
The next layer features fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes.
The middle layer of the Mediterranean food pyramid is olive oil.
All of these layers are recommended for daily consumption.
Mediterranean people value highly prized extra virgin olive oil for its flavor, but we now think that the first press of the olives not only has more flavor but actually contains more nutrients than subsequent presses.
As you build the pyramid, food that is recommended occasionally, or weekly, includes cheese and yogurt, fish, poultry, eggs and sweets. The Greeks use a lot of cheese, especially feta cheese, and yogurt in their dishes, but always in small proportions, and paired with other foods, such as cucumbers, tomatoes and leafy greens.
It is thought that the enzymes produced by the Mediterranean style of making cheese and yogurt promote intestinal health. Since both Greece and Italy are surrounded by the Mediterranean, and fishing is the primary means of survival for many of the population, fish features quite highly in the Mediterranean diet. Lamb is also very popular, especially in Greece, but is not eaten quite as often.
While you might think of Baklava as a Greek staple, in Greece, sweets are eaten sparingly. More often than not, a selection of fruit finishes off a meal. But examine the ingredients in Baklava, and you will see that the filo pastry it is made from has less fat that traditional puff pastry or pie pastry, and the filling is made up of honey and nuts, which are healthier than the ingredients used in most of our popular desserts.
Red meat is at the tip of the pyramid and is recommended to be eaten no more than monthly.
Wine, especially red wine, is allowed in moderation and water is recommended in abundance each day (six glasses). There is nothing special about the alcohol, only the grapes that it is made from. So if you don’t drink alcohol, dark grape juice is just as good.