If we had to explain the Mediterranean diet to someone , the image would be similar to those of epic stories in which a long scroll was unfolded to make the presentation of all the laurels of the bravest of knights.
When it comes to our health, there seems to be no equal: it protects against cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, the harmful effects of pollution, lengthens life expectancy , and even keeps the scale at bay .
With all this, it does not surprise anyone that the World Health Organization promotes it or that Unesco has named it Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But perfection does not exist and science, which has declared it the diet that leaves the least footprint on the environment, believes that it can improve to be even better for our health and a little more sustainable.
This is proposed by a new work , carried out by different institutions in Mediterranean countries – among which are the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Carlos III Health Institute (Madrid) and the Mediterranean Diet Foundation (Barcelona) -, in which changes in the nutritional pyramid are proposed .
“What has been done is a redefinition of the Mediterranean diet adapted to the environment and with a comprehensive approach,” explains Iva Marques, dietician-nutritionist, professor at the University of Zaragoza and member of the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
We all know the famous polyhedron : a simple triangle with the food groups located in different steps according to the quantities to be consumed. Now, in addition to the foundations on lifestyle (physical activity, socialization, rest …), which were already added in 2010 , we see for the first time another side of the pyramid: the environmental impact of food production .
But it is not the only thing. In fact, “the substantial changes are in the steps”, explains the expert. That is, in what we eat.
To begin with, “protein of plant origin is prioritized over animal protein,” says Marques. It can be seen in the prominence that legumes gain , which go from being in the step of weekly to daily intake along with nuts and seeds .
“In addition to proteins, these foods provide micronutrients, fibers, healthy fats, phytochemicals …”. But eating beans, chickpeas and walnuts every day is not only good for what it contributes, says Marques:
“As Walter Willet said, ‘what you eat is as important as what you stop eating.’ In other words, when you choose to consume foods that are good for health and the environment, you more often displace the less healthy ”.
It is not worth cooking them in any way. No beans with chorizo and blood sausage today, and Madrid stew tomorrow. If we prepare them with red meats, sausages and processed, we may gain in grace, but without a doubt we will lose in health.
Marques recommends looking at some neighboring Mediterranean countries to learn how to do it better: “Some, like Italy or Morocco, have the habit of incorporating legumes in small quantities into salads, purees or soups that have vegetables as the main food.”
In fact, fruits, vegetables and vegetables are, along with cereals and olive oil, the foods that must be present not only daily, but in each and every meal. And here is another novelty: “ For the first time the importance of ‘the variety of colors and textures’ is included in the pyramid .
That is where the key to an optimal diet is ”, says the expert, who adds that another important aspect of the pyramid is the importance given to seasoning (which was already in the last modification). It refers to alliaceous foods —such as garlic, onion and leeks— and aromatic herbs:
“They improve palatability and have their nutritional value in micronutrients and phytochemicals that is not high in portion, but over time it is a contribute more ”.
Another group of foods that was already part of the recommended daily consumption is dairy. In the new proposal it does not vary and the same two servings (2) per day are recommended. “There is not enough scientific evidence that these two servings of dairy are necessary daily.
Although it is true that in the explanatory context they point out that it is not only for the contribution of calcium, but also that they serve to help the protein ”, says Marques. For the expert, the study has a small flaw when it comes to quantities : “It is not understood what two servings of dairy are. Is it two glasses of milk? Two yogurts? Two pieces of cheese? It is not clear ”.
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The same thing happens with proteins of animal origin, which are all consumed weekly: two or more servings of fish a week, between two and four of eggs, two of white meat, less than two of red meat and one or less of processed. The question returns: “What is the homemade amount of these servings?
The text explains that in the case of red meat it must be used as a condiment, that is, as part of another dish such as rice . However, it does not clarify the measurements. Putting a number of servings, it would have been good to have some homemade measures per serving ”, he clarifies.
We arrived at the top of the pyramid with a criticism and a compliment. “In the last link are the sweets, which are reflected with some industrial candies, an ice cream, a cake and a bun. The traditional pastries of the Mediterranean environment are very rich and very good.
They work a lot with nuts, dried fruits … this is not the same as industrial sweets ”, says Marques, who advocates using an iconography that reflects this gastronomic richness. Something that, on the other hand, is one of the intentions of the proposal: to bet on traditional dishes and local cuisine.
What the dietician-nutritionist likes is that the glass of wine that appears in the previous pyramids is no longer there. “There is no safe amount of consumption as discussed in the article”, sentence.
Beyond the changes in nutritional recommendations, the new pyramid seeks to make our diet more respectful with the environment. Hence this new face of the polyhedron appears that we had not seen until now.
It shows the environmental impact of the food on each of the steps of the pyramid. Thus, where there are plant foods, crops appear; in animals, farms; and in sweets, the industry.
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Concepts such as sustainability and affordability are incorporated , and the aim is to emphasize the value of local and seasonal food , whether vegetable or animal, to help maintain the biodiversity of the regions, avoid pollution generated by transport.
In addition, it encourages traditional cuisine as a way to maintain culinary heritage and because – says the work – “many traditional dishes are based on plants and have a high content of vegetables, legumes, nuts and cereals, which makes them more ecological”.
For Marques, the work represents progress on the pyramid, but still has room for improvement . In addition to those mentioned, he thinks that the iconography on sustainability could be dispensable:
“You must educate with programs supported by the Government to settle this idea, but reflecting it in the pyramid, distracts from the food education message. If you look at the Harvard plate, there are no frills. All the new drawings on the sides and below fill the view too much, and the pyramid is a teaching method that should be understood easily ”, he concludes.