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Diet pyramids and the Mediterranean diet

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the Mediterranean diet and its benefits. This diet is essentially the Greek diet, for two reasons: a) because Greeks consume relatively more of its typical foods, such as olive oil, bread and vegetables (e.g. annual olive oil consumption in kilograms is: Greece 20, Spain 10, Italy 8), and b) because most statistical data correlating the Mediterranean diet to health refer to Greece.

The Mediterranean diet’s main characteristic is the high level of consumption of olive oil (which provides 30-40% of the Greek diet’s calories). It is olive oil that is responsible for this diet’s ability to protect against coronary disease and breast cancer.

The American (and North European) diet pyramid contains more meat and much less olive oil than the Mediterranean one. The Asian pyramid stands out for its very low meat content and its abundance of rice and soya beans. As they have evolved in recent years, these two diets surprisingly seem to be leading to life expectancies almost as high as the Mediterranean diet. Life expectancy at 40 years in the USA is only slightly lower than in Greece, while in Japan it is somewhat higher. There is not sufficient information available on the life expectancy of vegetarians, and this is basically due to the fact that there exist vegetarians who eat dairy products, vegetarians who eat eggs, vegetarians who eat both diary products and eggs, and vegans, who don’t eat any animal products at all.

The conclusion from this comparative study is that there doesn’t exist any one ideal diet for human beings, but that a careful choice of local foods (combined with physical exercise) can lead to good health and longevity.

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