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Industrialization of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is the typical, traditional mode of the Mediterranean countries, characterized by:

  • a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, and cereals
  • a moderate consumption of red meat, compensated by an increased consumption of fish
  • a small consumption of milk and butter, but a large intake of fresh cheese and yoghurt
  • the quasi-exclusive use of olive oil as a fat source
  • an increased use of aromatic plants and herbs, and
  • a moderate consumption of red wine during meals.

The traditional Mediterranean diet gravitates therefore around the triad olive oil, wine and bread, representing an integrator of nutritional, historical and cultural values of the Mediterranean people. Nevertheless, the urbanization and the transformation of the mode of life of modern societies profoundly altered the nutritional and cultural habits of modern people. In this respect it is of value both from a public health and an economical point of view to ask whether the mediterranean cultural model can be of profit to the modern citizen.

The main feature of the traditional Mediterranean diet is the use of raw products, which are consumed either crude, or are lightly transformed. In this way, their nutritional value and their microelement content is preserved, or in some cases enhanced. On the other hand, an industrialized-processed product follows a number of steps, including: the conservation of eaw materials before processing, their pretreatment, their primary transformation, followed by the mixing of materials and their secondary transformation (cooking, extraction, etc), the conservation methods, conditioning and storage of the finalized product. In each step, a possible loss or transformation of microconstituents, which provide the specificity of the Mediterranean diet can occur. Specific examples will be discussed, including olive oil and tomatoes, or more elaborate plates, based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet.

A recent study has revealed that the modern consumer is eager for labeled products of specific appellation of origin, regrouping the term of "terroir", treated and processed in strict terms of hygiene and safety. Although the quality of fresh products is very difficult to be achieved by industrialized ones, a closer collaboration of industrials, scientists, and nutritionists can provide a substantial gain in the confectioned output of industrialized foods, providing an additional competitive advantage for the Mediterranean products, and the penetration in new markets, in which the concept of the Mediterranean diet and its beneficial effects of health is already present.

Elias Castanas
University of Crete, Greece

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