Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Italy, Morocco and Portugal inscribed the Mediterranean Diet in 2013 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Definition of the Mediterranean Diet by UNESCO: “The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food. Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin. It is a moment of social exchange and communication, an affirmation and renewal of family, group or community identity. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes values of hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity. It plays a vital role in cultural spaces, festivals and celebrations, bringing together people of all ages, conditions and social classes. It includes the craftsmanship and production of traditional receptacles for the transport, preservation and consumption of food, including ceramic plates and glasses. Women play an important role in transmitting knowledge of the Mediterranean diet: they safeguard its techniques, respect seasonal rhythms and festive events, and transmit the values of the element to new generations. Markets also play a key role as spaces for cultivating and transmitting the Mediterranean diet during the daily practice of exchange, agreement and mutual respect.”
The Mediterranean Diet throughout History
Mediterranean Diet has its origin in adjacent regions to the Mediterranean Sea basin, a place with distinctive environmental characteristics and played a relevant role in humanity history. Some historians call this geographical area “the cradle of society” due to its relevance during ancient world development. Mediterranean regions were a meeting place that enabled several cultures to interact. Civilizations exchanged customs, lifestyles, languages and beliefs, which were changing and transforming over the time, from Cretans, Phoenicians, Greeks to Romans.
Agriculture had a key role, being cereals and vegetables the most available foods. Whereas animal foods were less frequents than fish and seafood, especially in the recipes from richer population. Bread, wine, olives and olive oil were the most habitual foods. Mediterranean Diet has been continuously evolving; different people influenced and contributed with novel foods that enriched this dietary pattern.
Mediterranean Diet has been also influenced by German people, who were mainly nomads, hunters and farmers. Arab people also contributed with some key foods such as spices, which are highly appreciated, and plant-based vegetables such as aubergines, almonds, oranges, lemons and pomegranates. In addition, the discovery of America represented an important ephemerid that brought a wide range of unknown foods (e.g. potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, corn and new varieties of beans. Those foods are now part of the foundations of the Mediterranean Diet.
Currently, traditional Mediterranean Diet is usually described such as diet in Crete, Greece and regions in the south of Italy at the beginning of the 1960s. However, Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, French, Lebanese, Turkish, Portuguese and other Mediterranean countries diets have similarities in their composition. In addition, this food pattern is accompanied by regular physical activity.
In 2013, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the Mediterranean Diet as a part of Human Culture and Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Mediterranean Diet goes beyond to be only an exceptional dietary pattern; it also involved life-style, a Mediterranean dynamic cultural complex, which include traditions concerning to agriculture, fishing and livestock, food processing, preservation, cooking techniques, food sharing and consumption. Cooking and meals are perfect social meetings to exchange ideas and communicate with family, friends and neighbours, to forge closer ties, in cordiality and respect. The Mediterranean Diet has a main role in culture, being present in festivities, celebrations and daily life, represented in crafts, in markets, as places for exchange, or inside familiar nucleus, where techniques and recipes are transmitted.
Dietary intake and food pattern plays a relevant role in human health. However, the link between the Mediterranean Diet and health was not described until 1960, after that some scientific results were available. The American physiologist Ancel Keys and his colleagues published the Seven Countries study, an observational study that showed the relationship between the Mediterranean dietary pattern and its protective effect against coronary heart disease and cardiovascular mortality. This study linked by the first time saturated fat acids intake and high fasting total cholesterol blood levels with coronary heart disease mortality in different populations. Similar results were subsequently observed by the MONICA (Multinational Monitoring of Trends and Determinants in Cardiovascular Disease) program which collected data about total mortality and mortality from heart disease in 26 countries between 1950 and 1978. Data permitted to observe a north-south gradient, so that North countries had a higher cardiovascular disease-related mortality than South countries. Moreover, it has been noted that Mediterranean Diet is present in certain regions so-called Blue Zones (Sardinia in Italy and Icaria in Greece), which are distinguished by their life expectancy and quality of life.
Over the last several decades, scientific evidence has related Mediterranean Diet adherence with health benefits in blood lipids concentration, blood pressure, insulin resistance, arterial stiffness, oxidative stress, lower cardiovascular risk and a better evolution of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. This has contributed to its recognition such as a healthy diet by several international organisations. Since 2010, American Dietary Guidelines included Mediterranean eating pattern style as an example of a healthy diet, but also traditional Mediterranean Diet has been introduce in gastronomy because of its ingredients and tasty key foods.
At present, there are many sources of information that provide advice on nutrition and how the population should be fed, and sometimes, this creates confusion, because each country has different cultures, and this is difficult to adapt. That is why the dietary guidelines are an important part of promoting the consumption of adequate food within each sector of the world’s population.
The food guides are the educational tool that the health administrations make available to the general healthy population in order to adapt in an easy and understandable way the scientific knowledge about the nutritional requirements and food composition. They are shown graphically and easy to understand. Almost all countries have a guide, designed according to the policies that govern it. It is considered a very useful tool to educate and guide the population towards a healthier diet. They are extremely important because they influence the promotion of health and thus prevent diseases that are increasing today. They are also adapted in relation to the culture, customs, and availability of food for each of them.
- Pyramid or equivalent – ALBANIA
- Pyramid or equivalent – BOSNIA & HERZERGOVINA
- Pyramid or equivalent – CROACIA
- Pyramid or equivalent – CYPRUS
- Pyramid or equivalent – GREECE
- Pyramid or equivalent – ITALY
- Pyramid or equivalent – PORTUGAL
- Pyramid or equivalent – SLOVENIA
- Pyramid or equivalent – SPAIN/MEDITERRANEAN DIET