Dietary Benefits Deficits and Changes

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The International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) was convened in Rome in 1992 and established the food-based dietary guidelines (FBDG) for Europe. The purpose of the FBDG is to provide dietary guidance to the public. They are based on scientific knowledge, but are presented in a way that assists people in reaching nutritional goals. The southern European diet is fairly representative of these guidelines (see accompanying figure).

Southern Europeans experience less heart disease, stomach and lung cancers, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity than other Western nations. This lower rate of chronic disease has been attributed to diet. The diet of people in this area is similar to that recommended in the American Food Guide Pyramid. It differs mainly in the amount of meat and dairy consumed.

staples: essential foods in the diet heart disease: any disorder of the heart or its blood supply, including heart attack, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease stroke: loss of blood supply to part of the brain, due to a blocked or burst artery in the brain high blood pressure: elevation of the pressure in the bloodstream maintained by the heart diabetes: inability to regulate level of sugar in the blood obesity: the condition of being overweight, according to established norms based on sex, age, and height chronic: over a long period vitamin: necessary complex nutrient used to aid enzymes or other metabolic processes in the cell mineral: an inorganic (non-carbon-containing) element, ion or compound fiber: indigestible plant material which aids digestion by providing bulk fatty acids: molecules rich in carbon and hydrogen; a component of fats fast food: food requiring minimal preparation before eating, or food delivered very quickly after ordering in a restaurant overweight: weight above the accepted norm based on height, sex, and age sedentary: not active

Meals are based on grain products, such as rice, pasta, and bread. In addition, southern Europeans consume large amounts of fruits and vegetables, which provide plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Red meats, chicken, and eggs are used sparingly. Fish is popular and provides omega-3 fatty acids. A moderate intake of red wine also provides health benefits. Additionally, southern Europeans tend to lead a more relaxed, stress-free life. They often have a post-lunch siesta, which aids proper digestion. They also tend to be physically active.

Although the dietary habits described above are traditionally true, recent trends show that the southern European diet now also includes elements of the Western fast-food craze. A study by Eurostat, the European Commission's statistical branch, found that southern Europeans are getting fatter. Thirty-five percent of Greek males are overweight, as are 32 percent of Spanish males. Thirty-one percent of Greek and Portuguese women are overweight. Rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes are increasing.

Southern Europeans have not abandoned their traditional foods; rather, they have added hamburgers and fries to them. In addition, sedentary jobs are on the rise, as fewer people are earning their money through manual labor. Governments of southern Europe don't have the finances to fight this trend. Michele Carruba of the Research Center on Obesity at the University of Milan says that "the advertising budget of Coke alone is more than Italy spends on food research."

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