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The Demise of the Mediterranean Diet

In the September 25 issue of the International Herald Tribune (IHT), an article reported how scientists and doctors are lamenting the demise of the Mediterranean diet and the high incidence of obesity among children in the region. In fact, according to the report, except in a few up-market restaurants in New York and London, the traditional Mediterranean fare of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, olives and the occasional fish is almost non-existent. Instead, convenience food seems to be the daily special. By the latter, they didn’t necessarily refer only to the likes of McDonald’s since there are actually very few in the area. It’s the overall change in lifestyle in the region that led to the disappearance of the diet that is supposedly best suited for our cardiovascular health.

It just so happened that my family and I were travelling on that week along the Adriatic coast, from Italy to Croatia and on to Slovenia and got a taste of what the present-day Mediterranean diet (at least in that region) was like. In one of those seaside restaurants in Umag at the Croatian Riviera, I had a lunch of fish swimming in fat that definitely wasn’t olive oil, a mountain of French fries, and one small olive, a thin slice of tomato, and a wilted piece of lettuce which they called salad. All of the dishes shown as pictures on the menu (for the benefit of us tourists) were served with fries. None of the traditional vegetables or rice dishes were evident.

Alas, olives and olive oil have become expensive export products that locals can hardly afford. Instead, cooking oil full of trans fats are now used. And the vegetables are only used for decorations.

There were no McDonalds or Burger Kings around but there was quite an abundance of pizzerias and spaghetterias (pizza and pasta parlors). And of course, there were the ubiquitous fries, possibly the most convenient of all carbs from the point of view of bistros and restaurants and definitely very popular among kids and young people. And of course we saw what the supermarkets – like anywhere else – had to offer. 5-minute noodle soups, frozen microwave meals, ready-to-eat mashed potatoes, plastic-packed, long-lasting bread, not to mention the large variety of snacks from potato chips to chocolate bars. Add to that the sodas which are available everywhere, even in vending machines.

Now, how many housewives and mothers would make the effort of preparing a family’s daily food the traditional Mediterranean way – a way that would take twice, maybe 3 times as long? More and more women are working away from home, life is getting more hectic as the economic pressure to earn more and spend more builds up.

I don’t think we can go back and live in the past. However, we should be more aware of the health consequences of our modern lifestyle. We don’t necessarily have to eat like the Mediterranean people of 100, 50 years ago. We have the freedom to choose what eat. Are we ready to make the healthy choice?


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