The death of the Mediterranean diet: Experts said the Mediterranean diet has decreased by 70% in Greece. They have blamed a shift towards fast food and mass tourism.
Global experts say the Mediterranean diet - long celebrated for its health benefits - is going out of fashion in the countries where it was once a daily regimen, and they're blaming the growth of fast food and mass tourism.
Lluis Serra-Majem, head of the International Foundation of Mediterranean Diet, said it has decreased by 70% in Greece over the last 30 years and 50% in Spain.
The diet is rich in starchy foods such as bread and pasta, fruit and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, red wine, some fish, and a small amount of meat - and experts fear its devastating decline may be irreversible.
Found to varying degrees in all countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the diet was added in 2010 to Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list for seven countries - Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain and Portugal.
It was praised by the United Nations for promoting hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity.
But experts are now exploring ways to revive it, from making it appealing to teenagers, to persuading people to buy fresh and sometimes costlier food in a period of economic crisis.
Less than 15% of the Spanish population still eats a Mediterranean diet, while 50 to 60% do so sometimes.
Between 20 to 30% have ditched it altogether, said Serra-Majem.
'The decline has various causes. We are witnessing a globalisation of eating habits, with (the spread of) the "Western diet"', he said, pointing a finger of blame at the growth of tourism. 'Uncontrolled tourism leads to high urbanisation and... increased consumption of meat, refined flours and a reduction of the traditional diet.'
With people choosing to cook less often, the decline has been more marked in coastal areas, particularly in Spain or Italy's Adriatic coast, he added.
In Greece, younger generations have given in to the lure of fast food, said Antonia Trichopoulou of the Hellenic Health Foundation.
Experts are alarmed because the shift towards fast food has contributed to the rise in obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes among populations previously known for their longevity.
Seven in 10 Greek adults are now overweight or obese and about 11 per cent have diabetes, said Trichopoulou.
Serra-Majem said the Mediterranean diet combined with physical activity could prevent many diabetes cases.
In addition to the health fallout and associated medical costs, the diet's decline has also had an impact on the environment.
'Almost 25% of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production,' said Serra-Majem.
Experts also fear the diet's decline will put local skills and traditions, including harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry and conservation, at risk of extinction.
Of those who are sticking with it, the Mediterranean diet is a hit with 'educated people and those who belong to higher social classes' in Greece, said Trichopoulou.
She said: 'It is more related to a social problem and education than money, because vegetables and fruits are relatively cheap.'
Independent expert Florence Egal said promoting sustainable tourism and local food production can help to revive the diet.
In Spain's Balearic islands, including Majorca and Ibiza - two destinations loved by Britons - tourists eat at buffets in large hotels and oranges go unpicked in the countryside because imported fruit costs less, she added.
Also read: A powerful reason to eat like the Greeks