How can an eating pattern that came about decades ago in the rural areas of the Mediterranean possibly be the diet of the future? Well, today it is no secret that the Mediterranean diet is the gold standard of diets. Not only because it has years of research supporting it, but also because it is an eating pattern that tastes really good. The new, updated U.S. Nutrition Guidelines recommended it as a healthy eating pattern, a few days ago a report by prominent physicians and researchers also recommended the Mediterranean diet as the ideal diet for prevention of cardiovascular disease. The diet is the most researched diet that exists and is also considered a sustainable diet. The Mediterranean diet has been presented as a model and example for a sustainable diet by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
But somehow, even though we know this diet is good for our health, taste buds and the environment, people are not following it as would be expected. And even more so in Mediterranean countries such Italy, Spain and Greece where the diet originated. Why and what can be done about this? This is the question that a group of highly esteemed experts from around the globe gathered to answer. And what better place to discuss the renaissance of the Mediterranean diet than the Vatican?
The Food Values Conference "The Renaissance of the Mediterranean diet and significance for a 21st century world" took place in the Casina Pio IV inside the Vatican City, presented with the gracious hospitality of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Conference speakers and guests included individuals from different backgrounds including researchers, media, health professionals and culinary professionals to look at the importance of the Mediterranean diet in the 21st century and the value we place on food.
The stage was set by Dr. David L. Katz director of the Prevention Center at Yale University and president of The True Health Initiative, who stressed the importance of prevention indicating that surveys have shown that 80% of premature deaths are due to diet, smoking and lack of physical activity. But he also discussed the problems with adherence to a healthy diet, adding that knowledge is not power when it comes to diet. Dr. Francesco Soﬁ from the University of Florence and co-organizer of the conference discussed the importance of adherence, providing information to the public in the right way that resonates, but also learning from the past and identifying what is Mediterranean and what is not. Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou, professor and chairman of the Hellenic Health Foundation described what the traditional Mediterranean diet was, a diet that manifested through festivals and celebrations and the fact that it is not just a diet but a lifestyle. She stressed the need for greater exposure of the Mediterranean diet at a younger age, as today more and more young people particularly from the Mediterranean region are not following the diet of their forefathers.
Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at The Culinary Institute of America stressed that in order to achieve a renaissance of the Mediterranean diet there needs to be more excellence in the growing, processing and preparation of the plant based core. Sara Baer-Sinnott, director of the non-profit organization Oldways, which created the first Mediterranean diet pyramid, pointed out that top consumer trends for 2017 include authenticity and healthy living, making this conference and the Mediterranean diet a timely discussion. She talked about common misconceptions of the diet providing evidence that it is affordable, but also easy to follow. The final presenter Simon Poole, physician, author and co-organizer of the conference said that it is necessary to look back to the value we place in our diet, redefining our relationship with the food which in turn will result in a reduction of chronic disease in the population. In closing, he presented three urgent issues that need to be addressed:
1. Government. Policy Makers must consider the nutritional, cultural, social and contextual value of food in respect to all policies, legislating to actively promote a more sustainable and healthy environment.
2. Education. Food Illiteracy is endemic in many parts of the world and education is key to improving skills in preparing food and ensuring a better understanding of its value and its role in health and well-being.
3. Industry. Those making a profit from producing food must have a greater regard to their responsibility of the impact of their products and marketing on the health of consumers.
Elena Paravantes is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Food Writer and a Mediterranean Diet Expert.
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