Mediterranean diet is for the rich and educated, study claims

According to a new survey, only socially privileged people actually "gain" from the Mediterranean diet. [grobery/Flickr]

The Mediterranean diet is beneficial for health and reduces cardiovascular risk, but applies only to people who have higher income and educational level, a new study has claimed.

The Mediterranean diet is mainly inspired by the dietary habits of Greece, southern Italy and Spain. It consists of a large intake of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits and vegetables, with only moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine, as well as limited red meat and poultry.

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Older people who don’t follow a “Mediterranean diet” are more likely to have a higher loss of total brain volume over time, new scientific research has found.

But according to a new Italian scientific survey, only socially privileged people actually “gain” from the Mediterranean diet.

Researchers at the Italian research centre IRCCS Neuromed analysed data of 18,000 people aged over 35.

It was found that those who follow the Mediterranean diet have on average a 15% less risk of developing heart disease, something that was proved also by other surveys in the past.

However, for the first time, a survey claims that the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are not the same for all people, but are significantly affected by the socio-economic situation of a person.

Who is driving quality in EU agri-food?

The EU’s Southern member states are the leading producers of foods certified by EU quality schemes: between them, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Greece account for 70% of the total.

The benefits are visible to those who have an annual family income of at least €40,000. But for people with lower income and less education, the benefits for their cardiovascular health seem to be much smaller or non-existent.

The researchers attribute this finding partly to the fact that the most prosperous people can make a more qualitative Mediterranean diet by eating a larger variety of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and other healthier products compared to the poorer people.

The latter often buy “Mediterranean” foods with lower nutritional value, the survey added.

Mediterranean diet feels threatened

In the meantime, the producers of Mediterranean products seem to be on a collision course with the food multinationals over labelling.

Particularly, six industry giants, including Coca-Cola and Nestlé, launched in March a push to have UK-style traffic light labels in Europe.

‘Traffic light’ food labels gain momentum across Europe

A UK scheme that labels pre-packed food in red, amber or green according to their level of healthiness was rejected by Mediterranean countries at EU level but is slowly gaining momentum across Europe.

Traffic light food labels were first introduced in the UK with the aim of providing consumers with a clearer indication of the amount of salt, sugar or fat contained in the products they buy. They are red, amber or green based on the quantity of specific nutrients, allowing the consumer to quickly decide which product to choose.

Southern European countries, Italy in particular, reacted strongly and voiced concerns about the UK traffic light system, claiming it would stigmatise the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in oil.

Nestlé boss: Simplified food labels will better inform consumers

Simplified food label schemes like the UK-style traffic light will provide EU consumers clear and simple elements and therefore, better inform them, Marco Settembri told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

But for the industry, the UK-style is simpler and will help consumers make easier and quicker purchases.

“The Mediterraneans are invited to join the task force we just set up. We didn’t say the process will be the following and that’s it. We pledged for something,” Marco Settembri, Nestlé’s CEO of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (EMENA), told EURACTIV.

Settembri added that there was not a bad diet and a good diet but everything is a question of balance and portion.

“This is the kind of consumer education and information we need to provide people with. If they wish to consume 1 kilo of cheese every day they should be free to do so, it’s still their choice, but they have to be informed,” he said.

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