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The Mediterranean Food Guide Pyramid

The Mediterranean Food Guide Pyramid is based on the dietary traditions of the Greek island of Crete, other parts of Greece, and southern Italy around 1960, when chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer were low. The focus is on eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and seafood; eating less meat; and choosing healthy fats such as olive oil.

[Credit: © 2009 Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust,” <a href=
Credit: © 2009 Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust,” www.oldwayspt.org

Note also the importance of fun activities, time shared with family and friends, and a passion for life.

The Mediterranean Sea, connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the thin (14-mile wide) Strait of Gibraltar in the west and to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea by the Dardanelles and the Bosporus in the east, has long played an important role in the civilizations that border it.

Surrounded by the coastlines of 21 countries — Algeria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Montenegro, and Spain to name just a few — it has been an important route for merchants and travelers and a primary source of food for the civilizations that sprang up around it.

The climate in the Mediterranean region — hot and dry in the summer and mild and rainy in the winter — lends itself to crops like olives, figs, and grapes; and the rocky, coastal terrain is more suitable for sheep, goats, and chicken than that staple of traditional western diets: beef. The nearby sea provides an abundance and variety of seafood.

This region has long fascinated and inspired the Western world in terms of governance, philosophy, science, mathematics, art, architecture, and more. Now, studies that draw direct links between what is called the Mediterranean diet and reduced risks for heart disease, reduced incidence of cancer and cancer deaths, and reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases have given people another reason to embrace the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean diet relies on fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, and healthy fats — hallmarks of all healthy diets. So you may be wondering what makes this diet different. Here’s a quick overview of the Mediterranean diet and its effects:

  • The recommended proportions: If you look at the Mediterranean food pyramid, you can see a couple of interesting things, the first of which is that the food groups you may be accustomed to (dairy, meats and other proteins, fruits, and vegetables) are regrouped.

    Specifically, all the plant-based foods — fruits, vegetables, and foods (like grains, legumes, nuts, olives, olive oil, herbs, and spices) that come from plants — are all in one group, and the proteins are divided into no less than three categories, with chicken grouped with dairy products, and red meat stuck at the top with sweets!

    This division is a key reason why the Mediterranean diet is so healthful: it includes a specific balance of foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and contain the optimum balance of fatty acids.

  • The holistic nature of the diet: The second thing you may notice about the food pyramid is that its foundation isn’t a food group. It’s a call to live a physically active life and to enjoy meals with others.

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