- Both pyramids
recommend eating lots of fruits, vegetables and
whole grains, but the
ate very little red meat, and, they consumed far
more plant foods - averaging nine servings a day
of antioxidant-rich vegetables.
- The Greeks ate
cold water fish several times a week
- another heart-healthy investment since fish
contain omega-3 oils that not only reduce heart
disease risk but also boost immune system
Guide Pyramid groups high
protein foods together and does not separate out
the red meat from the heart-healthy fish and
- The Greek diet
contains little of the two kinds of fats known
to raise blood cholesterol levels: saturated fat
and trans fat (also called "hydrogenated or
partially hydrogenated oil" in the ingredients
section of food labels). The USDA Food Guide
Pyramid does not make the distinction between
the healthy fats like monounsaturated oils and
the unhealthy fats like saturated (found mostly
in red meats and tropical oils) and trans fats
(found mostly in margarines, snack foods,
processed peanut butter and commercial baked
goods). Both recommend limiting total fat if
What we can learn
from the Mediterranean diet about reading food
differences in kinds of fats and knowing how to read
and interpret food labels can help one become a
smarter food shopper. Look for snack chips without
hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (check
the ingredients section). Try natural peanut butter
instead of the pasty, hydrogenated kind. Alter
recipes whenever possible to replace unhealthy fats
with healthy fats like olive, canola or peanut oil.
Use butter very sparingly or use butter flavoring.
Don't believe "Fat Free" or "Cholesterol Free"
labeling means that a the product is good for you.
Many of these items are made with hydrogenated or
partially hydrogenated oils and they have "empty
calories" that can raise blood triglyceride levels.
Is this a good diet
for people with known heart disease?
In one study, French
researchers assigned 600 heart attack survivors to
follow either a Mediterranean diet or a regimen
similar to the one recommended by the U.S.
Association. The short-term
results were virtually the same: both diets reduced
cholesterol levels by comparable amounts, but the
long-term results were surprising. Only 8 new heart
attacks occurred over the next two years in the
Mediterranean group, compared to 33 in the other
group. What the researchers don't mention, however,
is the gender of participants. Statistically, women
are at much greater risk of suffering a second heart
attack. Another consideration is that heart disease
is multi-factorial. Diet is just one factor. Family
history, lifestyle and blood pressure management are
What about wine?
The authors of the
Diet Pyramid recommend moderate consumption of wine.
The American Heart Association recommends drinking
in moderation. Most Mediterranean people drink with
their meals. Consuming an alcoholic beverage in
moderation means drinking no more than one glass of
beer, wine or a cocktail a day for a woman and two
for a man. This may reduce heart attack risk by
raising HDL levels somewhat and by inhibiting blood
clotting, however, alcohol is addictive and can lead
to destructive behavior. Over-consumption can cause
high blood pressure and weakening of the heart
muscle. Studies suggest drinking grape juice can
have the same beneficial effect as drinking wine. OPC's (Oligomeric Proantho Cyannidins) are located
in the skin and seeds of grapes and are powerful
free radical quenchers. If you do drink, do so in
moderation. If you don't drink, don't start.
Drinking purple grape juice may be a healthier
alternative for some.
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