An initiative to promote the Mediterranean style of eating amongst US households has gathered speed as the science supporting the diet continues to stream through.
The olive-oil-rich diet first appeared as a nutritional concept in the 1990's, but it is only in recent years that it has started to take a hold within the American consciousness.
This has largely followed the publication of numerous new scientific studies that back its healthfulness. As a result, the nutrition group responsible for waving the med flag in 1993 is now expanding its efforts, which are finally being met by response and action from the food industry.
Mediterranean Foods Alliance
Oldways, which is the same group behind the popular Whole Grains Stamp, in March launched the Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA), a network amongst health professionals, scientists, industry and media.
The alliance - launched after 15 years of Med diet education efforts - is an expansion of the group's Med Mark program, which allows food manufacturers to flag up foods that fall into the diet plan using an easily-recognizable symbol.
One year after its launch, the Med Mark appears on 150 products, and Oldways projects this figure to triple by the end of the year.
According to the non-profit group, the MFA provides manufacturers with one more channel of support and promotion for products within the category.
"Membership in the Alliance benefits food industry players by deepening their involvement and visibility in this consumer supported food trend," said Nicki Heverling, registered dietitian and program manager of the MFA.
A flood of studies published in the past year have added support to following a Mediterranean style of eating. A few examples of the most recent findings are as follows:
A new study published earlier this month on the British Medical Journal's website bmj.com found that consuming a Med diet can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 83 percent.
In December 2007, a study of almost 400,000 people with an age range of 50 to 71 reported that greater adherence to a Med-style diet reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer by 22 and 17 per cent in men, and 12 per cent for women. The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In September, another study in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that the diet could help in alleviating pain in female sufferers of arthritis.
Again in September, a report in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that adhering to a Mediterranean diet could extend the life of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The diet has already also been associated with the prevention of Alzheimer's.
In August, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that adhering to the eating plan may reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 30 per cent. The diet has been repeatedly linked to lower incidence of heart disease, as well as a lower risk of obesity and certain types of cancers.
What's in the diet?
The Med diet is rich in cereals, wine, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains, fish and olive oil. Its main nutritional components include beta-carotene, vitamins A, C and E, tocopherols, polyphenols, and essential minerals.
Common foods of the eating plan include bread, pasta, rice, couscous and potatoes; olives, avocados and grapes; eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, nuts and beans; and cheese and yogurt. Moderate consumption of fish and poultry is also encouraged, whereas consumption of red meat is advised only a few times a month.
Foods that carry the Med Mark include pasta and pasta sauce, hummus, olives, extra virgin olive oils, dipping oils, soups and avocado oils.
In 1993, Oldways launched a Mediterranean nutritional pyramid, fashioned on the idea of the US government's dietary pyramid. The pyramid was supported by the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization.
The copyrighted pyramid has since appeared in millions of impressions in nutrition books, newspapers, magazines and television, and has even been licensed for use on some food products.