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Friday, 1 November 2013

The Mediterranean diet is under attack by junk food

The traditional Cypriot diet along with other Mediterranean diet's generally guaranteed most individuals a healthy weight and a long disease free life. Scientific studies into these benefits has meant the traditional Mediterranean diet has gained followers all over the world. 

A diet low in animal fat intake and high in fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil has been proven to be the basis for a healthy life. But Cypriots in ever larger numbers are abandoning their traditional diet for convenience and junk foods and as a consequence there is a rapid growth in obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

The traditional Cypriot diet was the diet of poor rural subsistence farmers, who typically did
hard physical work and did not earn enough money to eat red meat regularly. Diets included wholegrain bread, potatoes and other cereals. They ate cooked meals, soups and salads rich in olive oil and accompanied by beans, lentils, vegetables and foraged foods. Seasonal fresh fruit was an important part of their diet. Milk intake was low but cheese and yogurt were eaten regularly. Meat was expensive and most villagers ate chicken, fish or hunted game. Wine was consumed in moderation and generally accompanied food. 

Rising living standards, sedentary lifestyles and the globalization of food have completely changed this situation. With more disposal income people are abandoning traditional diets and switching to supermarket convenience and take-away junk foods which are high in salt, sugar, an array of artificial chemicals and animal fats. In just a few decades the number of fast food outlets has rapidly increased along with the waistline of the young junk food generation. Highly processes foods are not only cheap but they are part of a globalized food system which promotes unhealthy eating. It's sad to think that the fast food generation could be the first in many many decades to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. 

There seems no way back either, as junk food has been shown by scientific research to be as addictive as drugs by stimulating the very same parts of the brain and obesity worldwide is now leading to 2.8 million deaths a year. But what can be done? Mexico has imposed a 5% tax on fast food and 8% tax on soda drinks and if theses taxes work in reducing consumption other nations will surely have to follow. But what about taxing the food industries profits for the associated health and social costs, maybe then they might consider promoting really healthy products.

So even in it's heartland the traditional Mediterranean diet is in decline, under attack by a globalized food system whose huge profits are at the expense of killing its customers. Large globalized companies by blaming parents, individuals or claiming they simply provide what customers want abdicate all responsilbilty whilst counting their increasing profits. A very similar story to that of cigarette multinationals who continued to deny any links with cancer for decades.

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