Eat like a Greek God: Unveiling the Components of the Mediterranean Diet
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The Mediterranean Diet (MD) has long been hailed as a beacon of good health. We’ve heard about its many benefits, from reducing the risk of heart disease to improving brain function. But the question remains: how can we truly embrace this way of eating and reap the rewards it has to offer? This article delves into the optimal portions and frequency of consumption of each component of this eating pattern. So, sit back, relax, and prepare to embark on a culinary journey to better health!
Firstly, the frequency and amounts of each component of the MD are not standardised across guidelines and studies. The first MD pyramid was produced by Olway’s Preservation and Exchange trust in 1993, and was updated in 2009. The 1999 Greek Dietary guidelines are based on a traditional MD and are displayed in pyramid form. The Mediterranean Diet Foundation produced a pyramid model of the MD in 2010, which was intended to be a flexible, general representation of the eating pattern.1
The general description of the MD is similar across publications, where the same key components are emphasised. However, sauces, condiments, tea, coffee, salt, sugar, and honey lack specific suggestions.1 In general, the MD consists of the following components:2
- Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), nuts, and seeds as the principal source of fat
- A variety of minimally processed whole grains and legumes as the staple food
- Plenty of a huge diversity of fresh vegetables consumed on a daily basis
- Fresh fruits as the typical daily dessert; sweets based on nuts, olive oil, and honey consumed only during celebratory occasions
- Moderate consumption of fish
- Dairy products (mainly local cheese and yogurt) consumed in low amounts; butter, cream, and milk are never used, except for milk in coffee
- Red and processed meat consumed at very low frequency (only once every week or two) and amounts
- Wine consumed in low to moderate amounts only with meals
The guideline for servings and frequency of each component of the MD can be seen in the table below:3,5
EVOO should be added to vegetables and legumes to make them more palatable, where this subsequently increases the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.1 Sofrito is a sauce made with tomato and onion, often including garlic and aromatic herbs, and slowly simmered with olive oil. Commercial bakery goods, sweets, and pastries (not homemade) include cakes, cookies, biscuits, and custard.5
Though we are yet to fully elucidate the mechanisms of protection that the MD offers against heart disease, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory molecules that are found in the included foods are likely to be relevant.3 It is the food pattern as a whole that offers health benefits through synergistic interactions between foods and nutrients.
So why not take a page out of Goddess Demeter’s book and give your body the gift of health and vitality? It’s time to savour the flavours and benefits of this beautiful and timeless way of eating!
So, what is the takeaway message?
Embracing the Mediterranean Diet (MD) involves incorporating key components such as cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, whole grains, legumes, fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and moderate wine consumption into daily meals. The PREDIMED trial’s guideline, the Mediterranean Diet Adherence Screener (MEDAS), provides specific serving sizes and frequencies for each component, offering a practical approach for adherence. Adding extra-virgin olive oil to vegetables enhances palatability and nutrient absorption, while Mediterranean dishes like sofrito and homemade sweets contribute to the diet’s richness. The MD’s protective effects against heart disease are attributed to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, highlighting the holistic benefits derived from the synergistic interactions among various foods and nutrients.
The Mediterranean Diet stands as a timeless and healthful approach to eating, promoting overall well-being. While variations exist in guidelines and studies, the key components remain consistent. The PREDIMED trial’s MEDAS guideline provides a practical blueprint, detailing serving sizes and frequencies for optimal adherence. Beyond individual nutrients, it is the synergy among the diverse array of foods in the MD that yields health benefits. By embracing this culinary journey inspired by Goddess Demeter, individuals can not only savor the rich flavors but also gift their bodies with the enduring vitality that the Mediterranean Diet offers.
- Davis C, Bryan J, Hodgson J, et al. 2015. Definition of the Mediterranean diet: A literature review. Nutrients. 7:9139-9153. Available here.
- Tosti V, Bertozzi B & Fontana L. 2018. Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet: Metabolic and molecular mechanisms. Journals of Gerontology: Biological Sciences. 37(3):318-326. Available here.
- Martínez-González MA, Salas-Salvadó J, Estruch R, et al. 2015. Benefits of the Mediterranean diet: Insights from the PREDIMED study. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 58: 50-60. Available here.
- Shannon OM, Ranson JM, Gregory S, et al. 2023. Mediterranean diet adherence is associated with lower dementia risk, independent of genetic predisposition: findings from the UK Biobank prospective cohort study. BMC Medicine. 21(81). Available here.
- Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, et al. 2018. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts. New England Journal of Medicine, 378(25):e34. Available here.