Before setting up this website business I’d worked for 13 years in international schools and a university in Spain. Something that I noticed over that period was that children got fatter! Maybe that observation can simply be explained by my move from Mallorca to Madrid as the kids in Mallorca enjoy much more of an outdoor life than in the capital. On the other hand this was a period of enormous growth in technological entertainment resulting in too many children replacing footballs with Playstations and the like. But what about diet? I wonder how that explains a growing trend towards obesity over that period which continues to this day. The following quote from the OECD may come as a surprise to readers who are under the assumption that diet and weight aren’t an issue in Spain.
Adult obesity rates in Spain are higher than the OECD average, but child rates are amongst the highest in the OECD. Two out of 3 men are overweight and 1 in 6 people are obese in Spain. One in 3 children aged 13 to 14 are overweight. The proportion of adults who are overweight is projected by the OECD to rise a further 10% during the next 10 years.
The actual extent of this problem has surprised me having learned that Spain has the 3rd highest level of child obesity in the world which the OECD report puts down to unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. The long term implications of this trend for the Spanish state are worrying as obesity will lead to an enormous strain on the health service as patients suffering from heart disease, cancer and diabetes grows.
So where did it all go wrong? Traditionally Spanish families sat together and enjoyed home cooked meals as part of their daily routine. In today’s busy world this custom is dying out and too many people have moved away from healthy eating in favour of a diet consisting of too much fat and sugar. Tied in with a complete absence of exercise in many cases it’s not difficult to see the root of the problem.
So What is the Mediterranean Diet?
We’ve all heard of the Mediterranean diet but what exactly is it and is anyone actually eating it any longer? Personally I think that the Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle choice than a diet. It’s the way people living in traditional communities throughout the Mediterranean region have lived and eaten for centuries. The most important aspects of the diet include the following:
- Eat plenty fruit, vegetables and salad
- Regular consumption of pulses, grains, nuts, cereals, beans and legumes
- Daily use of good quality olive oil
- Frequent fish consumption
- Limited amounts of red meat
- Some cheese, yogurt and wine
- Drink plenty water
The diet also emphasises the importance of taking regular exercise and the social aspect of eating together with friends and family. Just from browsing the above list you can see what I mean about this being a lifestyle rather than a diet. There’s no end to the amount of dishes that can be created within the loose definition of the ‘Mediterranean diet’ and there aren’t any rules on what and when you must eat anything. Certainly it should never be compared with the nonsense of all the fad diets that appear in our daily newspapers all the time which never work out in the long run. The Mediterranean diet is a way of life that will improve your overall health and could contribute to living longer.
Fast Food in Madrid Horror
I love Spanish food and one of the great delights of travelling around the country is trying the local dishes which are particular to that region. When I first visited Madrid I was horrified to see a McDonalds located right on Puerta del Sol in the heart of the capital. There’s just no need to go there! All around the centre of Madrid there are small dining rooms serving a different ‘Menú del día’ every day. Having worked for 5 years in Moncloa near the city centre I reckon I’ve been to most of them. One saving grace about McDonalds in Spain is that they serve beer! In fact if you ever go to watch a Real Madrid game go to the Burger King on Concha Espina next to the Bernabeu stadium. It’s a lot quicker getting a beer there than at the bars near the ground!
So changing family customs, a trend towards consuming high fat and high sugar foods, growth in fast food options and general laziness are all contributory factors in killing off the traditional Mediterranean Diet in Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean region.
Want More proof?
A major study of thousands of patients in Spain with a high risk of heart disease was recently published by the New England Journal of Medicine. The study concluded that “About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals” (New York Times). So clear cut were their findings that the study was ended as there was simply no need to continue. And bear in mind that this study was on patients who already were suffering from some form of cardiovascular disease so the advantages of adopting such a style of eating for healthy individuals goes without saying.