NEWS

Lifesaving substances that can be found in food

The tables of components show what each plant contains. Parsley, for example, contains a high percentage of iron, potassium, and calcium, while dill and amaranth are high in potassium, calcium and magnesium, and basil has lots of magnesium and calcium. One hundred grams of dry beans contains 21.4 grams of protein, as much as a fillet steak. Up to 20 years ago, the bean stew known as fasolada was thought of as the Greek national dish, according to Trichopoulou. «Beans are full of protein,» she said, «and when cooked with celery, tomato and onion they are wonderfully nutritious. The Mediterranean diet is varied and it ensures a wide range of nutritional substances – vitamins, minerals, and vegetable anti-oxidants. For example, wild greens, known as horta, contain lots of flavonoids, while pulses, which Greeks are starting to neglect, especially as a food for the young, contain many phyto-estrogens. «We hear of phyto-estrogens being added to margarine and advertised for their anti-cholesterol properties, but not that such substances are to be found in abundance in chickpeas, beans and lentils.» Fasolada «Nobody ever bothered to sit down and study fasolada because it has no trade name. It isn’t generally known that fasolada contains valuable anti-oxidants, tannins and pure flavonoids. Quercetin, an anti-oxidant found in wine, is also present in onions.» The study demonstrates that the traditional Mediterranean diet, with its wide variety of foods, furnishes 118 mgr of flavonoids daily, substances believed to have anti-oxidant and anti-tumor properties. Trichopoulou and her colleagues embarked on the study 10 years ago as part of a program funded by the General Secretariat for Research and Technology. «We have been analyzing the chemical composition of traditional Greek dishes so as to make a proper evaluation of the Mediterranean diet,» said Trichopoulou. «We never expected to find such high concentrations of beneficial substances. «Looking at a whole week’s diet, we observed that the Mediterranean regime covers all the major components (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), vitamins, trace elements, inorganic substances and phytochemicals, which have been the subject of so much discussion recently. «We studied 26 nutritional substances in 598 foods and 214 Greek dishes. This is the first step, which indicates how much attention we should give to traditional products that can show on their labels what wonderful ingredients they contain. «Then consumers won’t be swayed by simplistic solutions and expensive pills, but will choose combinations that come directly from nature and are more effective and safe.» Asked whether Greeks still ate lots of vegetables, Trichopoulou replied: «Yes, because the main feature of the Mediterranean diet is olive oil, which we mainly use in various vegetable dishes. «We don’t eat vegetables raw as they do in northern Europe and America. If you eat raw cauliflower you need to have lots of cheese or mayonnaise with it, which makes a good food too heavy. «Greeks cook cauliflower or eggplant in oil and make them tastier by adding garlic, onion, parsley and basil. And we eat them as a main dish, not as a side salad. In this way we also enrich our diet with various phytochemicals. «These substances act as anti-oxidants and they appear to help prevent cellular damage, which is linked to cancer and other diseases.»