Oldways, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the European Oﬃce of the World Health Organization introduced the classic Mediterranean Diet in 1993 at a conference in Cambridge, MA, along with a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid graphic to represent it visually.
The initial Mediterranean Diet pyramid was created using the most current nutrition research to represent a healthy, traditional Mediterranean diet. It was based on the dietary traditions of Crete, Greece and southern Italy circa 1960 at a time when the rates of chronic disease among populations there were among the lowest in the world, and adult life expectancy was among the highest even though medical services were limited.
The key to this longevity is a diet that successfully resisted the last 50 years and more of “modernizing” foods and drinks in industrialized countries. These modern trends led to more meat (mostly beef) and other animal products, fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, and more processed convenience foods. Ironically, this diet of “prosperity” was responsible for burgeoning rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Updating the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid
The “poor” diet of the people of the southern Mediterranean, consisting mainly of fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, healthy grains, ﬁsh, olive oil, small amounts of dairy, and red wine, proved to be much more likely to lead to lifelong good health. Other vital elements of the Mediterranean Diet are daily exercise, sharing meals with others, and fostering a deep appreciation for the pleasures of eating healthy and delicious foods.
As you can see above, the original graphic consisted of simple words. Soon after the original pyramid’s introduction, Oldways added graphics, to more clearly emphasize the foods making up the pyramid. Although we updated the graphics from time to time, the same underlying science was depicted.
By the time of our 15th Anniversary Mediterranean Diet Conference in November 2008, we decided it was important to make a major review of the latest research ﬁndings related to the Mediterranean Diet, and revisit the science.
A new feature on the 2008 Mediterranean Diet Pyramid update is the addition of herbs and spices, for reasons of both health and taste. Also, herbs and spices contribute to the national identities of various Mediterranean cuisines. The committee changed the placement of ﬁsh and shellﬁsh on the pyramid, recognizing the beneﬁts of eating ﬁsh and shellﬁsh at least two times per week.We gathered a distinguished Scientiﬁc Advisory Board, which reached consensus on several major updates to the Classic Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. These changes focused on gathering plant foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, olives and olive oil) in a single group to visually emphasize their health beneﬁts. The scientiﬁc committee made this change to draw attention to the key role of these delicious and healthy plant foods in this health-promoting eating pattern – and to put all foods in this group on an equal footing.
The 2008 scientiﬁc update inspired a 2009 graphic update. With the help of artist George Middleton, we created an entirely new pyramid graphic to better reﬂect the delicious and appetizing nature of the foods in the Mediterranean Diet.
For information about licensing and getting permission to use the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, visit our Co-Branding and Licensing page.