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Are You Ready for Mediterranean Food
to Make a Big Splash in the U.S.?

Some Americans have already discovered the Mediterranean diet -- rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans, whole grains and fish, and praised for its heart and overall health benefits. But it is now poised to make a far bigger splash in the U.S.

Mediterranean diet

You may soon find yourself searching the grocery store for foods that contain the Mediterranean diet seal of approval.

Oldways, the non-profit group that popularized the Whole Grains Stamp that's now on about 850 food products, plans to begin a major promotional campaign aimed at popularizing the Mediterranean diet here in the United States. The campaign will focus on public education to raise awareness about the diet's health benefits, and will include the launch of a new stamp for foods that fit in with the diet.

"The new scientific evidence is there. The second step is to communicate this evidence to consumers, and the third step involves connecting the science with specific foods," said Oldways president Dun Gifford.

"We expect the education campaign to last four years as that's how long something like this takes to be effective and develop durability. Merchandisers and food manufacturers need to know that this is something they can trust, something that will be around for a long time and something that will get the attention of people," he continued.

What Exactly IS the "Mediterranean Diet"?

Mediterranean Food Pyramid,
(Click to Enlarge)

The Mediterranean Food Pyramid, created by Oldways, emphasizes fruits and vegetables, olive oil and whole grains.

Although the Mediterranean diet varies by region, the American Heart Association lists these five components as the foundation of the typical Mediterranean diet:

  • High consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds

  • Olive oil is an important monounsaturated fat source

  • Dairy products, fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts, and little red meat is eaten

  • Eggs are consumed zero to four times a week

  • Wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts

The Mediterranean Food Pyramid (see image at right), created by Oldways, is patterned after the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. Supported by both the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization, the Mediterranean Food Pyramid points out the major differences between Mediterranean and American diets. The Mediterranean diet:

  • Includes more fruits and vegetables

  • Has a greater focus on fish, cereals, legumes and whole grains, and less on red meats

  • Encourages use of olive oil and nuts as healthy fats

Why Eat a Mediterranean Diet?

Have You Seen the
Whole Grains Stamp?

Whole Grains Stamp

The Whole Grains Council, Oldways' subsidiary, introduced the Whole Grains Stamp in 2005 to help consumers easily identify food products that contain whole grains.

Now used by 87 companies on almost 850 different food products, the stamp can only be used on products with at least half a serving of whole grains. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults eat at least three servings of whole grain each day, which can be met by eating three whole grain food products labeled with a "100% Whole Grain" stamp -- or six products bearing ANY Whole Grain Stamp.

Oldways' next project, The Mediterranean Stamp, is expected to be just as well-received as the Whole Grain Stamp.

The Mediterranean diet is nutrient-rich, including beneficial components such beta-carotene, vitamin C, tocopherols, polyphenols and essential minerals. It has been found to protect against heart disease, extend life, and fight certain cancers.

"The Mediterranean diet is of course not new ... We know it tracks back to the Phoenicians, the earliest expansive traders that carried olives and olive oil to the Mediterranean coastline," said Gifford.

"In 2006, 2,800 years later, we know that the Mediterranean diet is as healthy an eating pattern as there is anywhere in the world. Fifty years of very high level science, basic and applied, repeatedly confirms this hypothesis," he says.

Among the more recent studies pointing to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are:

  • A Greek study that found the diet could benefit people with existing health problems.

  • Another Greek study that found people who followed the diet were 60 percent less likely to be obese than those who did not.

  • A U.S. study that found the diet could decrease the risk of Alzheimer's disease by 68 percent.

  • A 2004 health claim approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that olive oil may reduce coronary heart disease.

According to Oldways, food manufacturers are eager to respond to consumers' demands for healthier foods, and they expect the Mediterranean diet to catch on fast. Aside from the extensive science backing up its health benefits, the diet is consumer-friendly in two important ways: it tastes good and it's non-restrictive.

A large number of existing products, including fresh and frozen vegetables, vegetable meals, stews and pasta meals, are ready to carry the Mediterranean seal of approval, but Oldways expects that "hundreds and hundreds" of products will be associated with the Mediterranean diet within a few years.

Recommended Reading

The 6 Healthiest Staple Foods in Greek Cuisine

10 Top Foods to Help You Fight High Cholesterol

Sources November 13, 2006 November 9, 2006

The Whole Grains Council

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