Nutrition-wise blog

The new Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. May 19, 2009

A new Mediterranean Diet Pyramid? Was something wrong with the old one? No! The creators of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid have just updated it to reflect the latest science.

Here's what's new:

  • All plant foods — fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, olives and olive oil — are grouped together and form the largest part of the pyramid.
  • Herbs and spices are now part of the pyramid. They add flavor and aroma and reduce the need for fat and salt when cooking.
  • Fish and shellfish are recommended more often, at least twice a week, in recognition of their unique health benefits.

The pyramid still emphasizes:

  • Being physically active and enjoying meals with others as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Choosing the least processed forms of plant foods. Fresh, raw and lightly cooked vegetables, fruits and whole grains retain fiber and most of their nutrients.
  • Using olive oil for cooking, baking, and for dressing salads and vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil is highest in monounsaturated fat and phytonutrients.
  • Enjoying cheese and yogurt in moderation — preferably low-fat versions.
  • Serving poultry more often than red meat. Lean red meat should be limited to several times a month.

Since the Mediterranean Pyramid was introduced in 1993, extensive research has corroborated the healthfulness of this cuisine, which has demonstrated the highest average life expectancy and the lowest rates of chronic diseases among adults. People have taken notice: Over the past 15 years, many restaurants, cooking shows and cookbooks have embraced this way of meal planning.

Even so, many still struggle with eating red meat only a few times a month. I know I've gradually (sometimes even grudgingly) changed my eating habits to make plant foods the main focus of meals. I now fill at least three-quarters of my plate with vegetables, whole grains and fruit. I'm also eating fish and seafood at least twice a week, choosing low-fat cheese and yogurt, and limiting eggs to once a week.

How have you adjusted your eating habits over the past 15 years? Tell me your stories.

- Jennifer

May 19, 2009