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A Mediterranean style German diet - an oxymoron?

The traditional Mediterranean-style diet (MD), which reflects the typical dietary pattern of Crete in the 1960s, is considered to be a healthful diet with reduced mortality from diet-related diseases.

Such a diet is characterized by a high intake of plant-based foods: fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, unrefined cereals, and a high consumption of olive oil. The intake of saturated fats, meat and poultry is low and dairy products (mostly in the form of cheese and yogurt) as well as fish are eaten in moderate amounts. Alcohol, mainly in the form of wine is consumed moderately but regularly during meals. This type of diet contains a large amount of antioxidants and these substances could play an important role in the prevention of CVD, cancer and aging. Despite a high fat intake, people in Mediterranean countries live longer, mainly due to a lower mortality from heart disease. In Germany, where 47% of all deaths are attributed to CVD, an adaptation to this MD in the German diet could be beneficial.
 
The purpose of our project was to investigate whether such an eating pattern - Mediterranean lifestyle - can be implemented in a Northern European country like Germany.
 
Methods
The food consumption patterns of the German diet were examined and compared with the traditional MD. The availability and variety of foods for a MD in Germany and possible obstacles/difficulties for the consumers were investigated.
 
Results and Discussion
While the traditional MD is mainly based on plant foods, the German diet is characterized by a high intake of animal products. This is reflected in the fat consumption: even though the percentage of energy from fat is the same (40%), the fat composition is different. Vegetable oils with a high content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids are the main fat source in the MD, in the German diet saturated fats are the main contributor. Germans like to eat fruits, however, their consumption of vegetables (140g/d/person) is low compared to Mediterranean countries; ie. Greek people consume almost 5 times this amount. The German diet is further lacking complex carbohydrates and thus an important source of fiber (MD: 47g of fiber/d vs. 22 g/d in Germany). Moderate wine consumption is an integral part of the meal in Mediterranean countries and may be partially responsible for lower rates of CVD in this region. In Germany, traditionally a beer-drinking country, wine is consumed more frequently now (24 l/year/person) but it is still less than in the classical wine countries like France, Italy and Spain (57 l, 50 l, 36 l/yr/person, respectively). Differences in the drinking pattern exist as well: Compared to Italy, where 97% of the alcohol is consumed with meals, Germans drink most of the alcohol outside mealtimes.
 
Conclusion:
It is feasible with available local foods to implement the traditional MD in Germany. Simple, practical suggestions for such a healthy lifestyle are given. A MD, however, not only has to do with (healthy) eating but also with lifestyle. Food, its preparation and the social aspect play a more important role in the Mediterranean countries than in Germany; the challenge will be to convey this Mediterranean way of life and enjoyment into the German diet.


U. G. Fradera, C. Stein-Hammer,
Deutsche Weinakademie, Germany
S. Nowitzki-Grimm, P. Grimm,
Office for Nutrition Communication, Germany

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