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Another view on the healthy diet

Lisa O

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005 Issue 1

March 25, 2005

Borrow this diet to lower your risk of disease

Increasing scientific evidence suggests positive health effects of diets high in whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes, as well as fish, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. In their 2000 Consensus Statement, Dietary Fat, The Mediterranean Diet and Lifelong Good Health, the International Task Force for Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease states that elements of the Mediterranean diet, which includes these elements, may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease, obesity, diabetes and certain cancers. Other studies suggest that consumption of monounsaturated fats, olive oil, fish oil, antioxidants, and other fat compounds in the Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, such as breast cancer and colon cancer.

There is no one typical Mediterranean diet. Many countries border the Mediterranean Sea and variations in the Mediterranean diet exist between these countries. However, according to the American Heart Association, traditional Mediterranean diets have the following characteristics in common:

An abundance of plant foods:



Breads and cereals


Beans, nuts, and seeds

Olive oil as the main source of fat

Moderate amounts of fish and poultry

Small amounts of red meat

Moderate amounts of dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt)

Low to moderate amounts of eggs (zero to four times per week)

Low to moderate amounts of wine (one to two glasses of wine per day), normally consumed with meals

Fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert and low consumption of sweets (often honey, no more than several times a week)

Comparison with the American Diet

Unlike the typical American diet, the traditional Mediterranean diet is high in fiber and low in saturated fat. However, the Mediterranean diet is not necessarily low in total fat. The total fat ranges from less than 25% to 35% and sometimes greater; this is dependent on the amount of olive oil a person uses. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which are considered healthful fats. Many foods emphasized in the Mediterranean diet are also emphasized in the USDA’s food guide pyramid.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

The traditional Mediterranean diet has been illustrated in a Mediterranean diet pyramid developed by researchers at Harvard and Oldways, a nonprofit education organization that promotes alternatives to unhealthful eating styles of industrialized countries. The pyramid is arranged in the following way:

Along the base is daily physical activity

The next four layers are foods that should be eaten daily:

Bread, pasta, rice, cous cous, polenta, and other whole grains and potatoes

Fruits, vegetables, beans, other legumes, and nuts.

Olive oil

Cheese and yogurt

The next four layers are foods that should be eaten weekly:





Last—and least—is meat, which fills the space at the top of the pyramid, and is recommended only on a monthly basis

Alongside the pyramid is wine, which should be consumed in moderation.

Exercise is Essential, Too

Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet is a healthful and pleasing alternative to the American diet. But will the diet alone significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and increase your longevity? Researchers point out that the low incidence of heart disease and low death rate in the Mediterranean countries may be due, in part, to other lifestyle factors such as more physical activity and extended social support systems.

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