Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Global push to make Mediterranean diet sexy again

It may be on the UNESCO heritage list, but global experts warn the Mediterranean diet, prized for its health benefits, is losing so much ground to the fast food culture that the decline may be irreversible.

Rich in vegetables, fruits, cereals and extra virgin olive oil, the Mediterranean diet is based on a moderate consumption of fish, dairy products, eggs, red wine, and a small amount of meat.

Found to varying degrees in all countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, it was named in 2010 onto UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list for seven countries, from Croatia to Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain and Portugal.

But the diet, which the United Nations also praises for promoting hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, is going rapidly out of fashion.

"In Greece, it has decreased by 70 percent over the last 30 years, in Spain 50 percent", Lluis Serra-Majem, head of the International Foundation of Mediterranean Diet, told AFP at a recent conference in Milan.

The experts, from Israel to New Zealand to Sweden, explored ways to revive the diet, from making it appealing to teenagers, to persuading people to buy fresh and sometimes costlier food in a period of economic crisis.

In Spain, celebrities like actress Penelope Cruz may add some glamour with their love of Mediterranean cuisine, but ever fewer people are enticed.

Less than 15 percent of the Spanish population still eats a Mediterranean diet, while 50 to 60 percent do so sometimes. Between 20 to 30 percent have ditched it altogether, Serra-Majem said.

And it's the same in Greece, says Antonia Trichopoulou from the Hellenic Health Foundation.

Unsurprisingly, over 65-year- olds are the best at eating traditional dishes, while the youngest generations have succumbed to the lure of fast food.

"The decline has various causes. We are witnessing a globalization of eating habits, with (the spread of) the 'Western diet'", said Serra-Majem, pointing a finger of blame at the growth of the tourism sector in particular.

It has been more marked in coastal areas, particularly in Spain or on Italy's Adriatic coast.

"Uncontrolled tourism leads to high urbanization and... increased consumption of meat, refined flours and a reduction of the traditional diet, " he said.

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