Mediterranean Diet: UNESCO's Newest Addition?

06/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In Madrid's popular Santa Ana square, tourists can't get enough of plates of sliced mature Manchego cheese, cold meats and cured ham, and of course rings of fried, battered squid.

But what's on offer - served with hunks of white baguette - isn't so appetising for vegetarians or anyone looking for the fruit and vegetables many nutritionists recommend for healthy living.

"I love the food here but it's not exactly your five-a-day," said Susie Goodall, a 28-year-old British immigration consultant enjoying a glass of red wine in one of the square's bars.

"If you do get vegetables in restaurants they are fried. When you order a tomato salad, you get seven tomatoes covered in oil!"

The Spanish government, however, says what it describes as the Mediterranean diet is so good, so healthy and historical it should be promoted throughout the world. It is leading a bid - joined by Italy, Greece and Morocco - to persuade the U.N. education and culture body, UNESCO, to put the Mediterranean diet on the world heritage list.

"Spain took the initiative ... convinced that the characteristics of the Spanish culinary model par excellence make it clearly deserving of this UNESCO distinction," said the agricultural ministry in a statement.

If Spain gets its way, the Mediterranean diet could join the intangible cultural heritage list, alongside the Festival of the Dead in Mexico and the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. It would also provide another way of marketing, even more profitably, Spanish products such as olive oil, ham and wine.

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