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Is the Mediterranean diet in danger?

The whole world envies the people of the Mediterranean of their diet. It features healthy and flavorsome foods. The ingredients keep Italians strong and they fend off disease.

Vegetables of the Mediterranean
Vegetables of the Mediterranean (Moyan Brenn/Flickr)

This diet has tons of ingredients, which makes it popular. Part of UNESCO’s untangible heritage patrimony, the Mediterranean diet has also been praised by the United Nations. Thanks to its values in hospitality, intercultural dialogue and creativity. However, it seems to be in danger.

Data on the Mediterranean diet

In June 2015 FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) released a worrying report. The study highlighted how people in the countries (countries such as Italy and Spain) has been following it less and less.

FAO did not simply warn about the health risks associated with such a change in habits. It also warned people about the possible cultural loss. As the report explains, “the abandonment of traditional habits and the emergence of new lifestyles associated with socio-economic changes pose important threats to the preservation and transmission of the Mediterranean diet to future generations.”

Spain has taken the issue particularly at heart. In fact, in 2014, the Ministry for Agriculture released a report on food consumption. The study showed a visible decreasing in sales and use of all products and produce associated with the Mediterranean diet. For example, fresh products consumption fell by 3.3%. Tomatoes were 6% less likely to be bought, potatoes and other vegetables 3.1%.

Crucially, research shows that it is especially the younger generations ditching the Mediterranean diet. Instead, they prefer processed dishes and fast food. However, a data shows positive news. In fact, in these Mediterranean regions, the levels of diseases such as obesity and diabetes is low. Hence, this fast food phenomenon is very generational.

A current trend shows eating healthy is not a matter of money. aAt least not in countries such as Italy, Greece or Spain, where fresh produce is plentiful and relatively cheap. Instead, it is a matter of mentality.

Why is it happening?

Antonia Trichopoulou is an expert with the Hellenic Health Foundation. According to her, people are losing interest in the Mediterranean diet due to social and cultural reasons. In fact, processed foods (high in sugar and fats) are “trendy.” So, misleading marketing works. At least in this case.

Furthermore, people aren’t cooking anymore. Today’s stressful lifestyle has made cooking a chore. People prefer pre-packed and unhealthy meals. Serra-Majem sees also urbanization and the rise of mass tourism as a culprit. Especially in Southern Europe. Here, there has been an increase in the consumption of processed and meat-derived foods.

Extra virgin olive oil, homemade bread and small quantities of meat (fish is preferred) are staples of theMediterranean diet
Extra virgin olive oil, homemade bread and small quantities of meat (fish is preferred) are staples of theMediterranean diet (Susana Fernandez/Flickr)

More than health

Shifting away from the Mediterranean diet causes health issues. As people abandon healthy eating habits, the risks for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity increases. So, medical costs increase. However, this is not the only risk.

According to an article by The Local, abandoning the Mediterranean diet could also bring to the loss of century old skills and traditions. As the publication reports, “[risks] such as harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry and conservation.” Indeed, the human heritage can be lost.

Fish is king in the Mediterranean diet
Fish is king in the Mediterranean diet (Adamansel52/Flickr)

Is the Mediterranean Diet truly at risk?

Only time will tell. Although the loss of popularity is real. This is unfortunate since the Mediterranean diet has always been synonym with a certain culture and tradition. Not all hope is lost.

It might be true that younger generations don’t conform to their old, past heritage. But it is still true that older generations are rediscovering the beauty of their own roots and traditions. Of course, the Mediterranean diet is included.

Indeed, only time will tell. Make sure you check also this Mediterranean Tomato Soup if you want something healthy and delicious from the Mediterranean.

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