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Greek Taste > Med diet helps for heart problems June 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece, Health & Fitness.
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The Mediterranean diet, already linked as a way to protect against heart disease, could help people with established heart problems says a population-based study from Greece.

“Background dietary habits close to the Mediterranean diet seem to be associated with lower severity of coronary heart disease,” said lead author Demosthenes Panagiotakos from Harokopio University in Athens.
 
The Med diet, rich in olive oil, fruit, vegetables and fish, has long been linked to lower the incidence of heart disease, obesity and certain types of cancers. However, studies into the severity and prognosis of people with heart disease is lacking.

“The results of our study extend previous scientific knowledge that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet has a beneficial effect on the severity of acute coronary syndrome (ACS), and on its short-term prognosis, in a free-eating population,” wrote Panagiotakos.

The Greek study

The new article, published online in the journal Nutrition (doi:10.1016/j.nut.2006.04.005), reports the results of the Greek Study of Acute Coronary Syndrome (GREECS) of 2172 patients (76 percent men) who had been hospitalised with myocardial infarction (MI) or unstable angina (UA) and their adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

Dietary assessment was performed using validated, semi-quantitative 156-item food frequency questionnaires, and correlated to the Mediterranean diet using a 55-point scale. The higher the score, the closer to the Med diet.

Diet score was also linked to biological markers of heart disease and heart attack, such as cardiac troponin I, creatine phosphokinase, and creatine phosphokinase-MB, and an inverse association was observed.

Lower adherence to the Mediterranean diet, linked to younger patients, smokers, or people with a family history of coronary heart disease (CHD), was associated with a higher degree of severity of CHD.

“A five-unit increase in diet score [increased adherence to the Med diet] was associated with 15 percent lower odds of having MI, after controlling for confounders,” said Panagiotakos.

Complex mechanism

The mechanism by which the Mediterranean diet exerts its benefits to heart health is thought to be complex, and scientists have proposed improvements in blood pressure, body weight, blood lipid concentrations, and inflammation.

“These mechanisms might have a major impact on plaque instability, rupture, or erosion and the exacerbation of the following acute MI,” said the researchers.

The main limitations of this study are, firstly, that the study was limited to survivors of coronary events, and not people who died as a result of their first events. Secondly, people may have changed dietary habits leading up to or as a result of their CHD.

Despite these limitations, Panagiotakos and colleagues conclude: “At a population level, a Mediterranean dietary pattern with a potential of favourably modifying both the severity and the prognosis of ACS could be invaluable.”

Greek Taste > Mediterranean diet for brain health June 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece, Health & Fitness.
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The heart-healthy benefits of the Mediterranean diet are well known, but new research suggests the eating plan may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, too.

People who carefully followed the Mediterranean diet – heavy on fish, fruits and vegetables, mono-unsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, and low on meat and dairy products – had a 40 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s, than those who ate the conventional American diet.

That is a pretty significant effect,” said Dr Nikolaos Scarmeas, assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Centre and leader of the study.

While a number of studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet decreases the risk of heart disease, this is the first research to show a benefit in terms of mental function, he said.

The finding appeared in the April issue of the Annals of Neurology.

40% reduced Alzheimer’s risk

The study involved 2,258 New York City residents, who were divided into three groups, depending on how faithfully they followed the diet. For an average follow-up of four years, the rate of Alzheimer’s disease was 20 percent lower for those in the middle third of adherence, and 40 percent lower for those who stuck closest to the plan, the report said.

Scarmeas said it’s the diet as a whole, not any single element of it, that’s responsible for the beneficial effect. And the fact that there is “a combination of many beneficial food items” in the diet makes it hard to determine exactly how the plan works, he added, but there’s ample room for speculation.

One possibility is that the Mediterranean diet has the same beneficial effects on blood vessels in the brain as in the heart, reducing the risk of blockage, Scarmeas said. It could also be that the foods in the diet are rich in beneficial antioxidants, or that the diet lowers the incidence of harmful inflammation, he said.

No single cause for benefit

“We tried to single out which of the components of the diet are driving its effect, but none of them is prominently responsible,” Scarmeas said. “But, when we put them together, the effect was there.”

Dr Dimitrios Trichopoulos, professor of cancer prevention and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, who has done similar studies of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, called the new research “intriguing.”

“The authors seem to have done very good work,” he said. “They used a diet score we have developed over the years. At face value, I think the study is a good one. This is speculation, but reasonable speculation. One has to do further work to duplicate the finding, but the results are intriguing.”

There has been “a general idea” that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is lower in regions where the Mediterranean diet prevails, Trichopoulos said. “The assumption has always been there, so that fits with this study,” he said.

Trichopoulos agreed that the beneficial results “are not the effect of individual components but the entire diet. Small effects have a collective impact.”

Trichopoulos said he follows the Mediterranean diet, which, Scarmeas noted, includes “moderate consumption of alcohol, usually in the form of wine during dinner.”

Greece bids to host EU Galileo programme authority June 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Science, Transport Air Sea Land.
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Athens News Agency reports that Greece on Friday made an initial bid to host the Headquarters of the GNSS Supervisory Authority for the European Union’s satellite radio navigation programme Galileo, during a meeting of EU Transport and Communications Ministers held in Luxembourg.

Greek Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis outlined the role that peripheral countries can play in developing the market for the satellite system and presented arguments for basing the Galileo supervisory authority in Athens.

During the meeting on Friday, EU ministers discussed the criteria for selecting a base for the Galileo programme’s supervisory authority, while a final decision will be made at the end of the year, during Finland’s EU presidency.

The Galileo radionavigation system is envisioned as an alternative to the United States’ GPS and the Russian Glonass systems but, unlike them, will be under civilian instead of military control. It is an initiative launched by the European Commission and the European Space Agency that seeks to ensure that Europe has reliable access and control over one of the most important advanced technologies that will revolutionise several sectors of the economy, particularly transport.

Greece rejects genetically modified foods June 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece.
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Despite any other differences of opinion, there’s one point that gains nearly universal agreement in Greece: a dislike for genetically modified crops.

Genetically engineered seeds and plants contain genes that were inserted in a laboratory to provide advantages, such as resistance to common pests.

Read more at UPI’s website Greece rejects genetically modified foods

Greece approves new solar incentive bundle June 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Energy.
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According to UPI the Greek parliament has approved a solar energy incentive package of grants and tax breaks as part of the Renewable Energy Sources legislation.

The law, passed Friday, states that commercial applications can receive grants of as much as 30 percent to 55 percent of their solar system’s total cost, according to a report in the Solarbuzz journal. Read more at

Greece approves new solar incentive bundle

Wine > Grapes Gone Greek June 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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This is a good time to be a wine drinker, especially if you’re willing to explore the lesser-known winemaking regions of the world.

Today, a trip to your local wine shop yields not only great wines from standbys like France and America, but Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, Austria, Germany, Portugal and other countries as well. There’s not only a diversity of good wine on the market, a lot of it is available at great prices. The glut of quality wine has reached the point where some French wineries are being forced to sell their wine to ethanol producers because prices for wine have fallen so low it’s not worth bottling. While these are tough times for French winemakers, things are looking up in Greece.

Best known for its turpentine-flavored retsina, wine preserved with pine tar, Greece has emerged as an exciting wine producer whose wines are just now becoming available in America.

Greece has been making wine for more than 4,000 years, but the country’s premium winemaking is only 25 years old. Wars and political strife throughout much of the early 20th century made wine production difficult. Now that the warfare has stopped, the country can focus on the more worthy business of making wine. While the country still makes retsina wine that one Greek wine distributor called “our great national tragedy”, the country now has more than 300 wineries, many of them as state of the art as anything you’d find in France or California.

I had the chance to taste more than two dozen Greek wines at a wine tasting event at Jack Falstaff restaurant in San Francisco. My only other experience with Greek wine was at Santana Row’s Thea Mediterranean where I tried a delicious bottle of Domaine Skourasmoschofilero-roditis blend, a crisp, stone-dry white wine. The restaurant is one of the few places in Silicon Valley where premium Greek wine is available. Based on that wine and the wines I tried last week, I hope more restaurants and wine shops will start carrying Greek vino.

Across the board, the wines I tried had a refreshing acidity and balance that makes them exceptionally food friendly. While many U.S. winemakers are still making oak-lashed, fruit-laden, high-alcohol wines, the trend toward, drier, more balanced wines is underway and Greece has a number of stellar wines that could teach California winemakers a thing or two.

One of the most exciting things about Greek wines for me is that, given more than 300 indigenous grape varieties, drinking Greek wine is a totally new experience. But if you have trouble pronouncing gewürztraminer and viognier, wait until you get a load of native Greek grapes like assyrtiko, agiorghitiko and xinomarvo.

Several grape varieties stood out for me. With its crisp, citrus flavors and bone finish, robola might be described as the Greek sauvignon blanc. Good too is the widely planted assyrtiko, a light-bodied, pleasantly dry, mouth-puckering white wine that could pass as a really good pinot gris. Check out Domaine Sigalas for this wine. I’m a red wine lover and I loved agiorghitiko, a silken, deep ruby-colored wine with ripe fruit balanced by acidity. My favorite red was xinomarvo, particularly that made by Alpha Estate. The tannins in this rich and earthy red wine give it great aging potential, but with its complex flavors of caramel, plum, dried spices and green olives, I’d rather drink it now.

In addition to their approachable, food-loving style, the best thing about Greek wines may be their prices. Because the Greek wine industry is still in its infancy and looking to make its mark, the wines sell for a fraction of what you’d pay for a similar bottle of burgundy or Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Most Greek wines sell for well under $25. The only problem is finding them. Greek wine may well be the next big thing but you’d be hard pressed to find Silicon Valley wine shops that sell the stuff. Start bugging them and maybe they will.

For more information about Greek wine, check out www.allaboutgreekwine.com.

Books > Olives and capers: Adventures in Greek cooking June 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life, Greek Food Culture.
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During coverage of the Greek Olympics in summer 2004, we all had pictures in our minds of tavernas and patio restaurants in the city of Athens, crowded with people enjoying the warm evenings and a good meal.

The Olive And The Caper lets you create that fabulous Greek food in your own kitchen. Written by Susanna Hoffman, an anthropologist who now adds chef to her list of job titles, the book (Thomas Allen & Son, $28.95) is a collection of hundreds of recipes interspersed with stories of her years of travelling and living in Greece, bits of Greek myth and history, tales of helping with the harvest and celebrating at weddings and christenings. It could be read as a travel memoir as much as a cookbook.

Sixteen chapters cover everything from the drinks served during the day, from water to coffee to wine, to the little snacks that accompany any drink, through to breads, soups, salads, egg dishes, grains, vegetables, fish and shellfish, meat, poultry, wild game, sauces and marinades, fruit, and sweets.

Along the way, there are explanations for the history of dishes, and these tales often reflect the history of Greece as a seafaring nation that had colonies in Italy and Africa. Food influences come from everywhere, so that potatoes, for instance, are now a staple in the Greek diet, and Greece’s rocky landscape cannot support many animals to maturity, so there is a strong tradition of fruits and vegetables at every meal.

It’s a very healthy way of eating, with its concentration on variety rather than quantity, and with a tradition of enjoying fish, vegetables, and fruit when they are fresh and at their very best.

It’s an enjoyable book to read, and will certainly inspire you to try at least some of the hundreds of recipes it contains.