Mediterranean Diet Pyramid changes debut

Oldways, the non-profit "food issues think tank" credited with successfully translating the complex details of nutrition science into the familiar language of food, has released an updated Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.

The major change is that all plant foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, olives and olive oil) are grouped together to emphasize the health benefits they provide. The scientists made this change to bring attention to these delicious and healthy foods. A new addition to the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is herbs and spices—for reasons of both health and taste. Herbs and spices contribute to the national identities of various Mediterranean cuisines. The scientists also pointed out the healthfulness of fish and shellfish, and suggest that it is beneficial to eat fish and shellfish at least two times per week.

Dietary data from those parts of the Mediterranean region that in the recent past enjoyed the lowest recorded rates of chronic diseases and the highest adult life expectancy show a pattern like the one illustrated in the list below. The healthfulness of this pattern is corroborated by epidemiological and experimental nutrition research. The average amounts given are in most cases intentionally nonspecific, since variation is known to have been considerable within this pattern.

The historical pattern includes the following (with several parenthetical notes adding contemporary public health perspective): An abundance of food from plant sources, including fruits and vegetables, potatoes, breads and grains, beans, nuts, and seeds; emphasis on a variety of minimally processed and, wherever possible, seasonally fresh and locally grown foods (which often maximizes the health-promoting micronutrient and antioxidant content of these foods); olive oil as the principal fat, replacing other fats and oils (including butter and margarine); total fat ranging from less than 25 percent to over 35 percent of energy, with saturated fat no more than 7 to 8 percent of energy (calories); daily consumption of low to moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt (low-fat and non-fat versions may be preferable); weekly consumption of low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry (recent research suggests that fish be somewhat favored over poultry); from zero to four eggs per week (including those used in cooking and baking); fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert; sweets with a significant amount of sugar (often as honey) and saturated fat consumed not more than a few times per week; red meat a few times per month (recent research suggests that if red meat is eaten, its consumption should be limited to a maximum of 12 to 16 ounces [340 to 450 grams] per month; where the flavor is acceptable, lean versions may be preferable); regular physical activity at a level which promotes a healthy weight, fitness and well-being; and moderate consumption of wine, normally with meals; about one to two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women (from a contemporary public health perspective, wine should be considered optional and avoided when consumption would put the individual or others at risk.)