The concept of Mediterranean Diet promotes an eating pattern based on diversity, on locally and seasonally sourced products and on fresh plant products. It also promotes olive oil as the primary source of dietary lipids, and simple culinary preparations, such as soups. Legumes, like beans and peas, and good quality bread are regularly present in this diet.
Water should be present at every moment, and wine should be consumed occasionally and moderately, with main meals. This eating pattern, together with regular physical activity, are probably the best known way to improve healthy life expectancy, without compromising the pleasure of eating and the well-being that comes from it.
According to recent scientific findings, it is possible to follow this “diet” if certain rules are applied. It is important to emphasize that people with special health needs might have to avoid some foods included in this diet, as well as adapt it to different age groups and physiological state. In case of doubt, please contact a health professional.
- Have at least three meals per day: breakfast, lunch and dinner, with small snacks in between, avoiding leaving more than 3.5 hours between meals/snacks. Having small meals at set hours of the day, several times a day, helps to control the amount of food eaten at each meal.
- Include, daily, in your main meals:
- Minimally refined cereals, such as whole grain bread, minimally polished rice, pasta and couscous. These are excellent food sources of starch (the body’s main fuel), fiber, B vitamins and minerals (magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, etc.).
- Plenty of vegetables, of different colors and textures, at lunch and dinner, in the soup and the main course, to guarantee the daily intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
- One to two pieces of fruit. Make it your favorite dessert. Take fruit with you for a mid-day or mid-afternoon snack. Fruits and vegetables have significant amounts of substances with high antioxidant potential and contribute to lower the risk of developing certain conditions, such as neurodegenerative diseases, vascular diseases and several types of cancer.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Alternatively, drink unsweetened tea or herbal teas (linden, melissa, chamomile, verbena, etc.). Other unsweetened drinks as well as low-salt and low-fat soups are great sources of hydration as well. Proper hydration ensures the maintenance of the body’s fluid balance which is essential for the correct functioning of the kidneys and intestine.
- Include dairy products in your diet twice a day. Give preference to low-fat products. These contribute to your bone health.
- Choose olive oil to cook and season your food. Olive oil has plenty of oleic acid, which helps increasing HDL-cholesterol levels, protecting against the development of cardiovascular diseases. Despite it benefits, it should be consumed in moderation due to its high energy content.
- Avoid eating too much salt. Enhance the flavor of foods by adding herbs (parsley, coriander, bay leaf, thyme, basil, oregano, etc.) and moderate amounts of spices (clover, nutmeg, cumin, etc.), onion and garlic, instead of salt. Don’t add salt at the table and avoid salty snacks. Excess salt intake leads to the development and maintenance of high blood pressure.
- Rediscover the pleasure of eating small amounts of olives, walnuts and almonds, dried figs, lupins and seeds (give preference to those with the lowest salt content). They are good sources of unsaturated fats, vegetable protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber. They can be eaten as snacks, in small amounts, as an alternative to high-saturated fat and high-sugar foods such as croissants, pastries, cookies, amongst others.
- Include moderate amounts of wine and/or beer at main meals – 1 or 2 small glasses per day, for women and men, respectively. Avoid distilled drinks, such as spirits, liquors and whiskeys, as they have a high alcohol content.
- Include in your main meals:
- Fish, at least twice a week; Poultry and game, twice a week; eggs, two to four per week (including those used in cooking and baking). These foods provide high biological value protein with a low saturated fat content. Fish is also a good source of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, protectors of the cardiovascular system.
- Fresh and dried legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, broad beans, garden peas, etc.), at least twice a week. Eat legumes with cereals (rice, pasta, couscous, etc.) or potatoes (no more than three times a week) in order to get an excellent source of vegetable protein with low-fat content.
- Red meat, once or twice a week; processed meats (ham, sausages, charcuterie, etc.) less than once a week, and in small portions. These foods have a high-saturated fat content, and are associated with the development of vascular disease and some types of cancer.
- Cook foods rich in flavors and aromas and low in fat. Give preference to soups rich in vegetables and legumes, low-fat stews and roasts. Avoid braising and frying foods. Avoid salt and eat simple and varied meals. Use your imagination!
Mediterranean Diet is based on the variety and abundance of plant foods and the moderate intake of animal foods. It also emphasizes the intake of fresh, locally and seasonably sourced foods.
Rediscover dietary traditions and embrace a healthy lifestyle; enjoy family meals and socialize with your friends around the table; be active.
(Adapted from: Anna Bach-Faig, Elliot M Berry, Denis Lairon, Joan Regaut, Antonia Trichopoulou, Sandro Dernini, F Xavier Medina, Maurizio Battino, Rekia Belahsen, Gemma Miranda, Luis Serra-Majem. Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Science and cultural updates. Public Health Nutrition.2001;14 (12A):2274-2284)