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Mediterranean and Portfolio diets

NOV 2011

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If you need to lower your cholesterol and want to try changing your diet first, your best bets are a Mediterranean-type diet or the so-called portfolio diet. In a head-to-head trial, a standard low-fat diet had little effect on cholesterol.

Mediterranean-type diets

There’s no such thing as "the" Mediterranean diet. You may already be following one and not know it (see “Mediterranean quiz”). Here are the general characteristics:

  • Four or more servings of vegetables a day. A serving is 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy greens, or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice.

  • Four or more servings of fruit a day. A serving is 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, 1/2 cup of dried fruit, one medium-sized piece of fruit, or 1/2 cup of fruit juice.

  • Six or more servings of grain — mostly whole grain — a day. A serving is 1 cup of dry breakfast cereal; 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta; or one slice of bread.

  • Two or more servings of fish a week. A serving is 4 ounces.

  • One serving of yogurt or cheese a day.

  • One serving of beans or nuts a day. For cooked beans, 1/2 cup is a serving; for nuts it’s a handful (about 1.75 ounces).

  • If you enjoy alcohol, limit yourself to one (for women) or two (for men) drinks a day. One drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1 1/2 ounces of liquor.

Mediterranean quiz

How “Mediterranean” is your diet? Here is how National Institutes of Health and AARP researchers classified diets. Give yourself one point for each “Yes.” If you score 6 or higher, you’re eating like you live in Athens, and we don’t mean Athens, Georgia.




Vegetables (other than potatoes), 4 or more servings a day


Fruits, 4 or more servings a day


Whole grains, 2 or more servings a day


Beans (legumes), 2 or more servings a week


Nuts, 2 or more servings a week


Fish, 2 or more servings a week


Red and processed meat, 1 or fewer servings a day


Dairy foods, 1 or fewer servings a day


More unsaturated fat (olive oil and other liquid vegetable oils) than saturated fat (butter, palm oil, bacon fat, etc.)


Alcohol, 1/2 to 1 drink a day for women, 1 to 2 for men


Portfolio diet

What University of Toronto researchers call a "dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods" includes a variety of foods known to lower cholesterol. These include margarine enriched with plant sterols; oats, barley, psyllium, okra, and eggplant, all rich in soluble fiber; soy protein; and whole almonds. They were added to a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables; whole grains instead of highly refined ones; and protein mostly from plants. This nearly vegetarian diet added up to 48% of daily calories from carbohydrates, 21% from protein, and 31% from fats.

A sample daily menu looked like this:

Breakfast: Hot oat bran cereal with soy milk, strawberries, sugar, and psyllium; oat bran bread, enriched margarine, and double-fruit jam.

Snack: Almonds, soy beverage, and fresh fruit.

Lunch: Spicy black bean soup and a sandwich (soy deli slices, oat bran bread, enriched margarine, lettuce, and tomato).

Snack: Almonds, psyllium, and fresh fruit.

Dinner: Tofu bake with ratatouille (tofu, eggplant, onions, and sweet peppers), pearled barley, and vegetables.

Snack: Fresh fruit, psyllium, and soy beverage.