The Mediterranean diet is being forgotten

Recent surveys have confirmed the impression that Greeks are confused about the precepts of the Mediterranean diet and are eating more food that should be consumed in moderation, such as meat, while reducing the amount of food they should be consuming freely, such as fish and pulses. Despite the rising cost of food and of living in general, 45 percent of Greeks eat out regularly, a percentage that is greater than in previous years, according to a survey by the Consumers’ Protection Center (KEPKA) in Thessaloniki of Greeks’ eating habits and the way these have changed in recent years with the introduction of new dietary models. The survey questioned 1,064 consumers around the country (56 percent women, 44 percent men) with monthly incomes ranging from 500 to over 2,000 euros. It registered the habits of people aged 19-35 (44 percent), 36-55 (34 percent) and 12-18 (12 percent), and revealed that half the population eat out regularly, 10 percent of them five to seven times a week and 35 percent every other day. Only 30 percent said they avoided fast-food outlets; another 30 percent said they ate in them two to four times a week and 38 percent once a week. Meanwhile, most people eat breakfast only about three times a week. Over a third admit that their dietary habits have changed, but not for the worse. In fact, over half believe that their diet has improved (with the addition of more salads and balanced meals). Only 28 percent admit that their eating habits have deteriorated. KEPKA found that despite the changing way of life (unbroken and longer working hours) just over three-quarters say they walk at least half an hour a day and they continue to see the traditional lunch as the main meal, chiefly because of climate and family traditions. Greeks continue to eat bread, vegetables and fruit every day and dairy products several times a week, although according to the Mediterranean diet, fat-free dairy foods should be eaten daily. Sweets are consumed frequently during the week, as are fried potatoes and soft drinks, contrary to what is commonly accepted as part of a Mediterranean diet. Meat, which should only be eaten a few times a month, is now eaten several times a week, while the reverse applies for fish and eggs. Pulses, which should be part of the daily diet, are eaten infrequently during the month. «As for the traditional Mediterranean diet, we are witnessing a reversal,» said KEPKA’s president, Nikolaos Tsemberlidis, «which is due to the rise in living standards and a trend toward ‘easy’ food. Meanwhile, changing fashions, including the influence of advertising and other media, are responsible for an increase in the consumption of meat.» «Greek consumers receive many conflicting messages,» said Professor Haralambos Lazaridis of Thessaloniki University’s food technology department. «They hear so many warnings about food hazards that many people simply give up trying, in the belief that all foods entail problems of some kind or other.» «The survey shows that the traditional Greek diet is being forgotten and families are turning toward the American style of TV dinners. But food is not just a biological need to maintain health. For Greeks it means family, a time for communication. That is what the Greek food industry has to bear in mind. They should reject foreign dietary models and adapt to local needs and preferences. The survey also showed that 47 percent of parents do not know if their children’s school canteens serve the right products. Taken with the fact that 42 percent of parents do not know how their children spend their pocket money, it is easy to understand the threat to the next generation’s dietary model.

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