The Mediterranean Diet Food Pyramid
We're all familiar with the Food
Pyramid, a simple diagram that replaced the old four food
groups in the 1990s. This triangular diagram, issued by the US
Department of Health, clearly shows the general nutritional guidelines
eating sensibly, as dictated by that department. It recommends
that the greater portion of our diets (at the bottom of the pyramid)
be made up of bread, cereal, and other carbohydrates. Fruits
and vegetables are the next most important, according to this
food guideline, at 2-4 and 3-5 recommended servings per day.
Daily products and proteins are next, at 2-3 servings each per
day, and fats and sweets are at the top, meant to be used only
a little, if at all.
However, recent research has shown that this pyramid is flawed.
For instance, the heavy reliance on carbohydrates doesn't specify
what kind, causing many people to rely on processed foods. Animal
fats are also heavily consumed if you eat according to the food
pyramid. Studies have shown that consumption of lots of processed
carbohydrates and animal fats can lead to obesity, heart problems,
and other health issues. So, if the Food Pyramid isn't a good guideline,
Over the years, data has suggested that the parts of the Mediterranean
region that have the lowest rates of disease and the highest life
expectancies are those that eat a particular type of diet. Since
this region includes many different countries, the specifics of
this diet vary from location to location. However, they all have
a few things in common.
Much of the diet is made up of food from plant sources. This means
breads, grains, and other carbohydrates, with an emphasis on whole
grains, vegetables and fruit, and seeds, nuts, and other legumes.
Food is minimally processed and eaten as fresh as possible. The
primary fat is olive oil, not butter, hydrogenated oils, or animal
fats, as it often is in the United States. However, this oil isn't
used sparingly. People in these areas eat it regularly, yet don't
seem to suffer bad health because of it. Fish and poultry make
up a low to moderate portion of the diet, and red meat is eaten
only infrequently. Wine is drunk regularly, but in moderate amounts
Various factors of these foods interact to help prevent heart
disease, and even, it appears, to reduce the cancer rate. Relying
on olive oil, which is a monounsaturated fat, instead of cholesterol-containing
saturated fats, is better for our hearts. Red wine (and grape juice)
contain antioxidants, which can help prevent cell damage. Fresh,
varied fruit and vegetable choices mean more vitamins and minerals,
and easier consumption of all the nutrients we need. Unprocessed
grains provide calories to fuel our bodies, but are more filling
than the processed type, and provide more nutrients, too.
So, if you'd like to emulate the Mediterranean diet, and thus
improve your health, a new Food Pyramid is in order. At the bottom,
we'll place unprocessed grains and other carbohydrates, including
bread, pasta, bulgar, potatoes, couscous, lentils, and others.
Next should be fruits and vegetables, as well as beans, nuts, and
legumes. These should be eaten daily, and should make up a large
proportion of the diet, along with breads and other carbohydrates.
After that, the other thing to eat on a daily basis is olive oil.
In the Mediterranean Food Pyramid, as much as thirty percent of
the calories you get each day can be made up of fats. However,
they should be good fats – from vegetable sources like olives,
nuts, and avocado – not animal fat from butter, cheese, and
red meat, or processed fats like margarine. Cheese and yogurt can
also be consumed daily, but only in small amounts.
Fish is next, and should only be eaten a few times every week.
It and poultry should provide the majority of the calories from
animal sources, since they are lean. Eggs may also be eaten, but
remember that the average person on the Mediterranean Diet eats
four or fewer eggs per week. You should also cut sweets back to
a few times per week. This can mean cooking with less sugar, and
looking for substitutes such as fruit juice in baking. While things
might not seem sweet enough at first, you'll soon adjust, and wonder
how you ever managed to eat so much! In contrast with the way most
Americans eat, red meat is at the top of this pyramid. You can
still have it, but should keep consumption to a few times a month,
and try to eat no more than a pound over the course of the month.
Small amounts at a time are best. Look for leaner cuts, if the
flavor of the meat can still be preserved.
© 2008 www.healthymediterraneans.com All Rights reserved
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