New alliance to boost Mediterranean diet

By Chris Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Olive oil Nutrition

Companies whose products form part of the much-vaunted
Mediterranean diet have joined forces to promote the benefits of
healthy, European-style eating to US consumers.

The Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA) is a non-profit membership group comprised of companies that make or import Mediterranean products, as well as trade associations with education programs about these products.

The Alliance, which is the brainchild of Oldways, a non-profit 'food issues think tank', aims to improve consumer health by increasing awareness and consumption of Mediterranean foods and drinks in more homes, restaurants and hospitals.

The MFA is an extension of Oldways' existing Med Mark scheme, which helps shoppers clearly identify Mediterranean products through a distinctive packaging label.

The Med Mark now appears on over 100 food items, including pasta and pasta sauce, hummus, olives, extra virgin olive oils, dipping oils, soups and avocado oils.

The number of products bearing the Med Mark is projected to triple by year's end.

Founding members of the Med Mark program include The California Avocado Commission, The Cheeses of France, Al Wadi Al Akhdar, which makes Middle Eastern food products, pomegranate juice maker Gnar Juice, International Collection, which makes olive oil, Italian food specialists Lucini Italia, Divina and Villa Cappelli, hummus maker Sabra Go Mediterranean and Greek food producer GAEA.

To be eligible to use the Med Mark, foods must be included in the list of traditionally recognized Mediterranean products (bread, pasta, couscous, fruit, vegetables, legumes, cheese, yogurt, fish etc.)

and either be minimally processed or meet stringent health standards, including zero artificial trans fat content, and limited saturated fat, sodium and added sugar content.

"Consumer interest in Mediterranean foods continues to grow because it's an eating style that's easy, great tasting and good for you," said Nicki Heverling, program manager of the MFA.

"In just the past year alone, more than 100 studies were published supporting the power of the Med Diet, from its ability to reduce asthma in children to helping people live longer, healthier lives."

"Membership in the Alliance benefits food industry players by deepening their involvement and visibility in this consumer supported food trend," she added.

A recent US study, published in December 2007, claimed that eating a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, olive oil and fish, could help reduce the risk of dying from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

A study of almost 400,000 people with an age range of 50 to 71 showed that greater adherence to a Med-style diet reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer by 22 and 17 per cent in men, and 12 per cent for women.

In a bid to spread such 'good news' stories, the Oldways will step up its awareness campaign through the MFA and Med Mark programs.

Later this year, the Med Mark Mediterranean Foods Alliance website will be launched, featuring an interactive Med Diet Pyramid (a dietary guidelines pyramid created by Oldways focusing on Med-style products), as well as an extensive library of recipes.

The MFA will also be present in US grocery stores, offering shoppers advice on how to stock their shelves with med-style products.

Oldways will also run its first high-level conference for health and nutrition experts, in November, the 15 th anniversary of its Med Diet Pyramid.

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