The Mediterranean Diet is a nutritional pattern shared by all the Mediterranean countries and widely recommended by the modern science to be adopted for the benefits of the health. Today, the Mediterranean Diet is considered an excellent model also to preserve the biodiversity and the social features of the Mediterranean countries.
Moreover, it is a valuable piece of a cultural heritage that integrates a balanced combination of food based on fresh, local and seasonal products with the landscapes, techniques and social features. It has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries, and has been closely linked to the lifestyle and the identity of the Mediterranean people throughout its history. It has evolved, welcoming and wisely incorporating new foods and techniques resulting from its strategic location and capacity of mixing and exchanging of the Mediterranean people. The Mediterranean Diet has been, and remains, an evolutionary, dynamic and vital cultural heritage.
The Mediterranean Diet is characterized by:
- an abundance of bread, pasta, vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts;
- the employment of olive oil as the major source of fat;
- the consumption of small amounts of red meat;
- a moderated consumption of fish, shellfish, poultry, dairy products, eggs and wine during meals.
Water is considered the main drink of this eating pattern that, accompanied with the practice of moderate physical activity, constitutes a really healthy lifestyle.
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Cereals and cereal products
In Mediterranean countries, the cereals with higher consumption are wheat (bread, pasta, couscous, Bulgur) and rice. Other grains such as rye, millet, barley, oats and corn, are more regional and smaller in magnitude than the first two. These, together with potato, represent the major source of carbohydrates and calories. The recommendation is 1-2 servings of cereal in each main meal for healthy adults without obesity or overweight.
The most typical legumes of the Mediterranean are lentils, chickpeas and beans. The nutritional composition of different varieties of vegetables is highly recommended because they give adequate and balanced concentrations of nutrients. The presence of so many nutrients as high biological value proteins, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber and low fat, legumes confer great importance, and a high nutritional value to be used in human food.The recommendation is 2 to 4 servings a week.
Nuts and seeds
The most typical of the Mediterranean area are almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts and chestnuts; seeds, sesame and sunflower. The esteemed nutritional value that is given to nuts, is based on several factors: energy density, type of fatty acids (rich in mono-and polyunsaturated fatty acids), rich in protein, rich in vitamins and minerals, and it contents phytocomponents (phenols, flavonoids, isoflavones, phytoestrogens, phytosterols and phytic acid). From 3-7 servings of nuts per week for healthy adults without obesity or overweight is the recommended amount of consumption.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits play an important role in a balanced diet at any stage of life. Fruits are a group of plant foods with a high content of vitamins, minerals, fiber and water, and a low energy content. Fruits are well accepted by older people, basic for adults and essential to form healthy eating habits in childhood and adolescence. The recommendation is 3 or more servings of fruit a day.
The main feature of the Mediterranean Diet is the consumption of olive oil as an essential fat, contributing to a 17-25% of calories. Aside from the benefits regarding consumption proper ratio of fatty acids, the use of olive oil is associated with a high intake of vegetables used as salad dressing, vegetables and cooked vegetables. The inhabitants of the Mediterranean Diet have always said that basically olive oil and wine are responsible for the longevity of the population. Edible oils have lots of vitamin E, an antioxidant of great importance. In addition, the olive oil is rich in phenolic compounds, which makes this oil a significant provider of antioxidants.
From the nutritional point of view, the main value of milk is its richness in calcium, so dairy products are the best source of this mineral for the body. Dairy products are essential at any stage of life but their use deserves special attention in stages that the requirements are higher (childhood, adolescence, pregnancy, lactation, menopause and old age). The recommended intake is between 2-4 servings a day, always depending on the nutritional requirements according to the stage of life.
Fish contains proteins, lipids, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals. Fish proteins have a high biological value. According to the lipid content, fish may be oily / blue (containing 4-25%) or lean / white (1-2%). Oily fish is rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, essential because the human body can not produce them. These fatty acids reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and are protective against the development of cardiovascular diseases. It is recommended to consume 3 to 4 servings of fish a week.
They are considered an important foodstuff because they have all the essential amino acids for humans. Eggs provide high amounts of vitamins (especially vitamins B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin D, A, B2 and niacin) and minerals (especially selenium, phosphorus, iodine and zinc) and a low quantity of calories. The recommendation is 3 to 4 eggs a week as a gastronomic alternative to meat and fish, providing therefore a variety to the diet.
Meat is an important source of protein of high biological value, what means that it contains proteins that are the more usable for the body because they include a greater number of essential amino acids. In general, meat also contains vitamins and minerals. It is a good source of vitamin B12, iron, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. Moreover, meat has significant amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol addition. There are two types of fat in meat, which is known as the muscle intramuscular, impossible to separate, and the external fat, also known as intermuscular that can be easily separated. The recommendation is to consume 3 to 4 servings of meat a week, always giving priority to the lean parts.
These kinds of meats bring a lot of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, which can affect the cardiovascular system. Therefore, occasional use is recommended. Ham offers a generous supply of B vitamins such as B1, B2 and especially niacin. Only 100 g of ham provides 24% of the recommended daily intake of this vitamin. It is rich in iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium, but especially phosphorus, contributing to the 30% of the recommended daily intake. It is important to highlight that ham fat has an important feature: the main fatty acid is oleic, the characteristic one of the olive oil. This facilitates the production of HDL (“good cholesterol”) in the body, while reducing LDL (“bad cholesterol”).
Moderate consumption of wine is a feature of the countries of the Mediterranean basin. Not only the type of alcohol consumed but how to consume (very different than is consumed in the countries of Northern Europe) can act as protector of coronary disease. The role of wine in the Mediterranean Diet started with the study of what is called the “French Paradox”. Mortality from coronary heart disease was not the same for a French Toulouse than for an American at Stanford (California). It demonstrated that in southern France the mortality rate was much lower and that consumption of wine had an important role in that relationship. The recommended amounts of wine are 1-2 glasses / day for men and 1 glass / day for women.
Garlic, onion, herbs and spices as condiment
Contribute to the nutritional value as seen in the fact that the parsley, mint, basil and cilantro contain non-negligible amounts of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Some of them are important for its high content of flavonoids (fennel, chives, etc.) or the compounds of the garlic and the onion, the last one with a potential effect on heart-and to improve cognitive function.
A daily intake of 1,5-2 l of water (equivalent to six to eight glasses), should be guaranteed. Proper hydration is essential to maintaining the corporal water equilibrium, although needs may vary among people because of age, physical activity, personal circumstances and weather conditions. As well as water, non-sugar rich herbal infusions and broths (with low fat and salt content) may complete the requirements. Physical Activity The data indicate that traditionally working in the field or in the kitchen led to a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity associated with lower levels of obesity in the Mediterranean countries.
The data indicate that traditionally working in the field or in the kitchen led to a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity associated with lower levels of obesity in the Mediterranean countries.