What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is the diet traditionally observed by the inhabitants of the olive-growing areas of the Mediterranean basin. Although there is no single definition of the Mediterranean diet, it is generally characterized by a high consumption of plant products includingolive oil, grains,fruits, thevegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and limited consumption of fish, dairy products, poultry, eggs and meat.
The Mediterranean diet is not strictly speaking a diet. It is a way of life, a holistic approach to eating that is based on cooking fresh food and the pleasure of eating well.
Mediterranean food and health
The Mediterranean diet is best known for its health benefits. Indeed, studies observe a low incidence of cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as a longer life expectancy among populations following a Mediterranean diet. It is therefore a lifestyle that can help prevent cardiovascular disease, increase life expectancy and promote healthy aging.
The Mediterranean diet, a way of life
In November 2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed the Mediterranean diet on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This underlines the cultural importance of the Mediterranean diet, which is much more than just a dietary model as the name suggests. Indeed, the word diet comes from the Greekdiaita which means lifestyle. In addition, in its declaration, UNESCO defines the Mediterranean diet as a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions that concern crops, harvests, picking, fishing, animal husbandry. , conservation, processing, cooking and, in particular, the way of sharing the table and of consuming food. Beyond the foods that compose it, the Mediterranean diet is a real way of life whose benefits do not only affect health, but also the environment and culture.
The 10 basic recommendations of the Fundación Dieta Mediterránea
The Fundación Dieta Mediterránea, based in Barcelona, Spain, is a non-profit organization created in 1996 by the Association for the Development of the Mediterranean Diet (Asociación para el Desarrollo de la Dieta Mediterránea). The foundation promotes research on the Mediterranean diet in relation to health, history, culture, cuisine, agriculture and the environment. It also ensures that the heritage common to Mediterranean populations is safeguarded, including lifestyles and habits (eg: agricultural practices, cooking, food, regular physical activity, etc.). It collaborates with other institutions, research centers, universities, companies and producers at national and international level, disseminates the results of studies and promotes the Mediterranean diet among different populations. Finally, the foundation also offers 10 basic recommendations to have a Mediterranean diet, simple and good for health.
- Use olive oil as the main source of added fat
Olive oil is a staple ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine and is the main source of added fat. It is rich in unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats, which are beneficial for health and help prevent cardiovascular disease. Other sources of unsaturated fat are also prominent in the Mediterranean diet, such as seeds, nuts and oily fish.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are an important source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Thanks to their high content of antioxidants and fiber, they can help prevent various diseases such as cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
- Eat bread and other grains on a daily basis
Grains are an important source of carbohydrates, which provide energy for daily activities. However, it's important to remember that whole grains provide more nutrients, including more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains.
- Choose fresh, local and minimally processed foods
As part of the Mediterranean diet, it is important to take into account the seasonality of the products. Not only for the environment, but also for health and taste. This is because the products are at their best in terms of nutrients, aromas and flavors when in season.
- Consume dairy products on a daily basis, mainly yogurt and cheese
Dairy products are excellent sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Plus, fermented dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, are associated with several health benefits from the probiotics they contain. Probiotics are living microorganisms that help maintain a balance between good and bad bacteria in the colon. They also contribute to the proper functioning of the immune system and promote the digestion of food.
- Eat red meat in moderation and processed meat in small amounts
Meat contains protein, iron and group B vitamins, but also fat, which is mainly saturated. Excessive meat consumption is not beneficial for your health. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified red meat as potentially carcinogenic and processed meat as carcinogenic. It is therefore recommended to consume meat in small quantities and consume it as an accompaniment or garnish on a dish made with vegetables and whole grains rather than as a main element.
- Eat plenty of fish and eggs in moderation
It is recommended to consume fatty fish at least once or twice a week. Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon contain polyunsaturated fats, omega-3s, which have protective properties against cardiovascular disease. Eggs, on the other hand, contain proteins, vitamins and minerals. They are a good alternative to meat and fish.
- Eat fruit for dessert every day and consume sweets, cakes and pastries on occasion
Fruits are nutrient dense foods and should be the usual dessert, before sweets and pastries. They are also a good option for snacks.
- Consume water daily
Water is an essential element in the diet and is the drink par excellence of the Mediterranean diet. As for wine, it is consumed in moderation and generally during meals. Wine is a traditional part of the Mediterranean diet which can have beneficial effects on health if consumed in moderation and as part of a balanced diet.
- Do daily physical activity
Keeping in shape and participating in a physical activity suited to our abilities every day is essential to maintaining good health. Indeed, physical activity is just as important for health as eating well.
The pyramid of the Mediterranean diet
The food pyramid proposed by the Fundación Dieta Mediterránea provides a more precise idea of the content of the Mediterranean diet, but also of the habits and values that characterize it.
At the base of the pyramid, we find water andinfusions, but also the values and habits which are at the heart of the Mediterranean diet. They include daily physical activity, rest, conviviality, biodiversity and seasonality, traditional and local products respectful of the environment and culinary activities. Then, all the following levels follow one another in order of frequency of consumption: at each main meal, every day and every week. According to the pyramid, the staples of main meals are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil. Next are nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, and dairy products. Finally, fish and seafood, legumes, lean meat, eggs, potatoes, red and processed meat, and sweets complete the pyramid. The wine is recommended in moderation in accordance with customs, as are the portions which are based on frugality and local habits. So there is no specific portion size or amount for each food. Each individual adapts the quantities according to their needs.
In conclusion, the Mediterranean diet is a real way of life that goes beyond the foods that compose it. Its health benefits can only be attributed to one factor. What should be remembered about this way of life is the importance given to foods of plant origin, unprocessed or minimally processed (See the article:Processed foods and the NOVA classification), seasonal and local, culinary activities, conviviality and daily physical activity. Habits and values applicable everywhere and beneficial for both human health and the environment.
- Martínez-González, MA, García-Arellano, A., Toledo, E., Salas-Salvadó, J., Buil-Cosiales, P., Corella, D., Covas, MI, Schröder, H., Arós, F. , Gómez-Gracia, E., Fiol, M., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., Lapetra, J., Lamuela-Raventos, RM, Serra-Majem, L., Pintó, X., Muñoz, MA, Wärnberg, J ., Ros, E., Estruch, R., PREDIMED Study Investigators (2012). A 14-item Mediterranean diet assessment tool and obesity indexes among high-risk subjects: the PREDIMED trial. PloS one,7(8), e43134. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0043134
- Estruch, R., Ros, E., Salas-Salvadó, J., Covas, MI, Corella, D., Arós, F., Gómez-Gracia, E., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., Fiol, M., Lapetra, J., Lamuela-Raventos, RM, Serra-Majem, L., Pintó, X., Basora, J., Muñoz, MA, Sorlí, JV, Martínez, JA, Fitó, M., Gea, A., Hernán, MA, PREDIMED Study Investigators (2018). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or Nuts. The New England journal of medicine,378(25), e34.https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1800389
- “The Mediterranean Diet. Understanding Nutrition, by Eleanor N. Whitney et al., Nelson Education, 2013, pp. 165167..