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article imagePasta, Not Fries: Why Mediterranean Cuisine Is So Healthy

By Andreas Heimann     Jul 11, 2000 in Lifestyle
Hamburg, dpa - Mediterranean cuisine is not just delicious, it is also
healthy - especially classic vegetarian dishes from southern Italy, Malta,
Greece and Spain.
In Greece and Cyprus, for example, a traditional meze - a bright and varied
mixture of up to 30 small dishes - are made from fresh ingredients such as
tomatoes, onions, green salads and pickled artichokes, celery, white
cabbage, olives and rounded off with fruits.
There are a number of reasons why Mediterranean cuisine is so healthy, said
Annette Braun of the German Society for Nutrition, DGE. "These include the
high proportion of vegetarian foods in their diet such as bread, rice and
pulses".
It also contains less meat than many other cuisines. And "vegetables are not
just served as side dishes," she added.
Instead of meat, which is heavy in saturated fats, Mediterranean menus more
often include sea fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids that can help
prevent strokes and heart attacks.
Food scientists have become increasingly interested in fatty acids in recent
years. The Seven Countries Study, published in 1952, compared the U.S.,
northern Europe and Finland on the one hand with southern European countries
such as Greece and Italy on the other.
The now famous study found that southern Europeans were less likely to
suffer from coronary heart diseases - probably as a result of their
diets.
Later studies also showed that the proportion of saturated fatty acids in
people's energy intakes in countries such as the U.S. were twice as high as
in Greece.
"Olive oil plays a decisive role in this," said nutrition scientist
Stephanie Caspar. It contains an unusually high amount of oil acids, a
mono-saturated fatty acid.
These contribute to lowering the proportion of LDL cholesterins in the
blood. Medics consider a high LDL cholesterol count to be a risk factor for
arteriosclerosis and therefore for heart attacks.
Gabi Weidner, a German health specialist who works for the public health
insurer AOK, recommends cooking with cold-pressed olive oil. In general,
people would be well advised to switch to Mediterranean diets, she said.
They should eat more fruit and vegetables because they also contain
anti-carcinogenic substances.
Nutritionists advise people to choose vegetarian pizza or vegetable lasagne
rather than the meat varieties. And they should opt for pasta rather than
fried potatoes.
Yet the right nutrition is also a matter of dining culture, said Stephanie
Caspar. "In France or Italy, people more often eat in a relaxed
atmosphere."
In Mediterranean countries, on the other hand, people tend to take longer
pauses during meal times and take the time to enjoy their food. It's a good
tip: eat healthily and enjoy yourself at the same time.
Typical mezedes include aubergine salad, skordalia, a bread and garlic
sauce, or talatturi, a yoghurt and cucumber salad. All three of these dishes
are easy to prepare at home.
Aubergine Salad: Take a kilogramme of aubergines and remove the stalks and
stems. Bake them in a pan in the oven for a good half an hour. Then take
them out, peel them and gently mash them into a porridge with the blunt side
of a knife.
Place the mixture in a bowl and add salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and wine
vinegar. Mix together with a wooden spoon. Some people also choose to mix in
finely chopped walnuts until the mixture is soft. The salad is best served
chilled and garnished with almonds and olives.
Skordalia: Press six garlic cloves into a bowl, add two cups of soaked bread
with salt and stir the mixture into a soft paste. Then add olive oil and
vinegar until the mixture forms a thick sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley
and black olives. This dish is sometimes refined by adding half a cup of
walnuts or chopped almonds.
Talatturi: Arrange thinly sliced pieces of cucumber on a plate, sprinkle
with salt and leave for half an hour. Then drain off the liquid from the
cucumber.
Place three pressed garlic cloves in a bowl and mix with three dessert
spoons of olive oil and one dessert spoon of wine vinegar. Add two cups of
yoghurt and stir the mixture together. Then add the dried cucumber and store
in the fridge. The salad should be served on small plates with a little
olive oil and mint.
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