Is Mediterranean Diet a sustainable diet?
General Nutrition • • 1 minute to read • By Praveena Kuchipudi, INFS Faculty
Author: Praveena Kuchipudi
Mediterranean Diet, like in the name, is evolved from the regions or countries bordering the mediterranean sea where local foods and cuisines are based on their tradition and culture.
Numerous studies have found that the population in these regions are less susceptible to chronic diseases comparatively, and they rely mostly on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, sea-food and most cuisines are made with olives and olive oils.
Let’s look at the food groups, nutrition profile, and evolution of mediterranean diet as a sustainable diet.
What is Mediterranean diet?
Mediterranean diet emphasizes on plant-rich foods, mainly relies on olive oil as the source of fat, fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals, legumes, nuts, moderate quantities of protein (seafood, particularly fish, poultry), dairy products, limited meat and wine in moderation. This diet was first introduced by Ancel Keys during the 1960s, being low in saturated fats and high in vegetable oils.
Since the diet involves more plant sources, it is also rich in antioxidants, micronutrients, fiber, and also low glycemic load compared to other diet types. Due to high nutrient quality, it is considered as a healthy eating pattern and showed positive effect on metabolic health.
The dietary patterns of the foods (portion sizes of food items) in mediterranean diet varies with each country, cultural and social-economic factors. In the pyramid (shown in the picture) as revised by the International Mediterranean Diet foundation (IFMeD) based on various latest evidences of the diet pattern in the prevention of various chronic diseases and also in maintenance of overall health parameters.
Pic credits: Sustainable Mediterranean Diet Pyramid (Serra-Majem et al., 2020)
In the pyramid representation, the recommendations are advised for healthy adults in the age group 18-65 years and for special considerations they can be modified with respect to the quantities or frequency of consumption of specific foods. It also doesn't remove any kind of food but rather emphasize on the importance of foods rich in various nutrients by including specific portions or servings per meal in a day, and a few on weekly basis.
Recommendations of foods
The general recommendations of food consumption are,
- Every meal should contain a combination of,
- Cereals – Rice, bread, pasta, couscous – 2-3 servings per meal
- Vegetables – Two or more servings; raw form in any one meal
- Fruits – 1-2 portions, strongly recommended due to their abundance in micronutrients and phytonutrients.
- Small quantities of legumes, beans every day
- Olive oil as the primary source of fats every day, along with other nuts and seeds.
- Moderate consumption of milk and its products daily (maximum of 2 servings per day)
- Poultry, eggs should be 2-4 portions weekly
- Seafood and fish to be consumed weekly (minimum of 2 portions)
- Red meat (less than 2 portions, preferably as lean cuts) and other processed meats (less than 1 portion) per week.
- High fat, sugary foods like desserts should be occasional and consumed in lesser quantities (1-2 servings per week). Desserts should ideally be substituted with sweeteners to control the intake of high sugar.
- Wine and alcoholic beverages should be kept very minimal, particularly reserving for special occasions.
The portions as mentioned above should be moderate and quantified according to the energy needs of an individual.
The base of the pyramid also highlights the affordability, sustainability, socializing, physical activity and adequate rest for better quality of life.
Years of study on mediterranean dietary pattern showed an association with cardiovascular disease reduction, mainly coronary heart disease. With more epidemiological studies lately, this dietary pattern has been associated with increasing health benefits, in most of the non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and some cancers. The American Diabetes Association recommends mediterranean diet, as studies have shown significant improvement in the control of type 2 diabetes by reduction in glycemic response.
The other factors and diseases that are studied with the intervention of this dietary pattern, are all-cause mortality, asthma, cancer, cognitive disorders, hypertension, obesity, weight loss, rheumatoid arthritis, which have shown an improvement in the management of the symptoms or reduced the severity (Martinez-Lacoba et al., 2018).
The important part is the adherence to this diet would lead to long-term health benefits.
The Mediterranean Diet foods are obtained from the local produce of variety of plants, fresh and seasonal (biodiversity), which addresses both health and environmental concerns, and are produced by eco-friendly methods (reducing the ecological impact of the food production chain).
Hence, the Mediterranean Diet is a ‘Sustainable diet’ and is also identified by UNESCO as ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’.
- Bach-Faig, A. et al. (2011) ‘Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Science and cultural updates’, Public Health Nutrition, 14(12A), pp. 2274–2284. doi: 10.1017/S1368980011002515.
- Burlingame, B. and Dernini, S. (2011) ‘Sustainable diets: the Mediterranean diet as an example.’, Public health nutrition, 14(12 A), pp. 2285–2287. doi: 10.1017/S1368980011002527.
- Davis, C. et al. (2015) ‘Definition of the mediterranean diet: A literature review’, Nutrients, 7(11), pp. 9139–9153. doi: 10.3390/NU7115459.
- Dernini, S. and Berry, E. M. (2015) ‘Mediterranean Diet: From a Healthy Diet to a Sustainable Dietary Pattern’, Frontiers in Nutrition, 2. doi: 10.3389/FNUT.2015.00015.
- Martinez-Lacoba, R. et al. (2018) ‘Mediterranean diet and health outcomes: a systematic meta-review’, European Journal of Public Health, 28(5), pp. 955–961. doi: 10.1093/EURPUB/CKY113.
- Serra-Majem, L. et al. (2020) ‘Updating the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid towards Sustainability: Focus on Environmental Concerns’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(23), pp. 1–20. doi: 10.3390/IJERPH17238758.
- Widmer, R. J. et al. (2015) ‘“The Mediterranean Diet, its Components, and Cardiovascular Disease”’, The American journal of medicine, 128(3), p. 229. doi: 10.1016/J.AMJMED.2014.10.014. ****
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