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DIET

Nordic and Mediterranean countries can make more of healthy cuisine: WHO

A new World Health Organization Europe report looks into the health-promoting properties of the Mediterranean and the Nordic diet, which have won acclaim for helping to prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Nordic and Mediterranean countries can make more of healthy cuisine: WHO
A starter served at an Italian restaurant in Copenhagen. File photo: Anne Bæk/Ritzau Scanpix

The report analyses which country policies and interventions have been inspired by the basic principles of the Mediterranean and Nordic diets, while also examining whether there is evidence of effectiveness in reducing disease.

The traditional Mediterranean diet, originating in the olive-growing areas of southern Europe, is characterized by a high intake of plant-based foods (fruit, vegetables, nuts and cereals) and olive oil; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; and a low intake of dairy products (principally yoghurt and cheese), red meat, processed meats and sweets (for which fresh fruit is often substituted).

Social and cultural factors closely associated with the traditional Mediterranean diet, including shared eating practices, post-meal siestas (afternoon naps) and lengthy meal times, are also thought to contribute to the attributed positive health effects recorded in the Mediterranean region, according to WHO.

The New Nordic diet shares many characteristics with the Mediterranean diet but comprises foods traditionally sourced in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Staple components of the New Nordic diet include berries and fruits, fatty fish (herring, mackerel and salmon), lean fish, legumes, vegetables (cabbage and root vegetables) and whole grain cereals (barley, oats and rye).

That provides the basis for healthier eating patterns after decades in which meat-heavy and low vegetable diets, which were also high in salt and saturated fat, dominated Scandinavian dinner tables.

READ ALSO: No one buys more organic food than the Danes: report

Expanding our understanding of how to promote these healthy dietary patterns is an urgent priority, says João Breda, head of the WHO European Centre for control and prevention of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

“The latest data continues to indicate that diets in both the Nordic and Mediterranean regions largely do not comply with recommendations. Worryingly, the diets of younger generations increasingly fail to adhere to the Mediterranean diet pattern and several Mediterranean countries are now the countries in Europe with the highest rates of children with obesity,” Breda said in a press statement.

“We would like to underline the importance of better diets for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases as well as obesity. Traditional diets, notably the Nordic and Mediterranean, can have a positive impact on health, environment and well being,” Breda added in a written comment to The Local.

WHO launched its report on Monday at its Regional Office for Europe in Copenhagen, with a one-day symposium jointly organized with the Nordic Council of Ministers. Experts from the Mediterranean and Nordic parts of Europe were present to exchange experience.

The event, which focused on food culture and identity, also involved leading chefs who are often major food influencers and important allies in promoting health diets.

To capitalize on the new awareness and reap the health benefits at population level, countries can collaborate and introduce changes such as nutrition labeling and healthy school lunches, the WHO says on the basis of the report.

Policy makers can also promote work across sectors that will bring opportunities for tourism, agriculture and sustainability, focusing on seasonal, local products.

“Healthier diets have also be found to be better from a climate and environmental perspective, meaning there can be great win-wins in tackling negative dietary patterns,” Mads Frederik Fischer-Møller of the Nordic Council of Ministers' Nordic Food Policy Lab said via WHO's press release.

Only fifteen countries in the WHO European Region currently recommend or implement policies based on the New Nordic and Mediterranean diets emphasizing the health benefits and – in some cases – the cultural significance of these diets, WHO writes in a press release.

Worryingly, the diets in Nordic and Mediterranean countries increasingly fail to adhere to the traditional diet pattern, particularly the younger generations, according to the organization’s report.

“Countries are not using the principles of these diets as much as they could for policy making. As such, we would like to work together with countries and other partners in the development of modern health promotion programs which would be well evaluated and fully inspired by the Mediterranean and Nordic diets,” Breda told The Local.

“Other countries which are not in the Nordic area or the Mediterranean basin could be motivated by these findings and really look for positive elements of their food culture that are healthy and deserve to be promoted,” he added.

READ ALSO: Falling in love with Copenhagen’s food scene: an English speaker's guide

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FOOD & DRINK

Six Barcelona bars serving delicious free tapas

The Local's Esme Fox, a long-term Barcelona resident, shares some of her favourite city bars that serve free tapas when you buy a drink.

Six Barcelona bars serving delicious free tapas

Spain is of course celebrated for its tapas, small plates of food, designed for sharing and consisting of favourites such as patatas bravas (fried potatoes topped with spicy sauce), pimientos de padrón (fried green peppers) and croquetas (croquettes of different varieties such as ham or mushrooms). 

One theory is that tapas were invented in order to cover your wine or beer glass, so that flies and other bugs wouldn’t fly in. The barman would give customers a piece of bread topped with jamón (ham) or queso (cheese) in order to act as a lid or in Spanish ‘tapa’, hence the name tapas.

Although most cities in Spain no longer serve free tapas when you buy a drink, there are still some cities where you are guaranteed a free snack. This is still true in the southern cities of Granada, Almería and Jaén, in León and Segovia, as well as a few others dotted around the country.

Despite this, you can still find the odd bar serving the old-fashioned free tapa in some of Spain’s largest and most expensive cities, including Madrid and Barcelona.

So, next time you’re in the Catalan capital, save some money by visiting one of these bars, where you’ll still get served a free tapa along with your drink.  

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Keep in mind, you won’t be served a free drink if you just order a coffee and sometimes not with a soft drink either, it’s usually when you buy a glass of beer or wine.

Ca’l Chusco

This small traditional bar in the old fisherman’s neighbourhood of Barceloneta offers one free tapa every time you order a drink. It’s usually something small and simple, but if you’re still hungry then you can always order one of their delicious paellas or plates or seafood too. 

Raspall
This cute and contemporary little tapas joint, situated on the edge of Gracia, is so popular that it often gets very crowded, so get here early if you want a spot at the bar. It costs around €2-4 for a drink and a small tapas dish, which you can choose from a large selection. There’s everything from croquetas and hummus to small sausages.

Pappa e Citti

It’s not just authentic Spanish bars offering free tapas in Barcleona, at traditional Sardinian restaurant Pappa e Citti in the barrio of Gracia, they offer it too. Be aware that free tapas with your drink is only served between 6-9pm. Small tapas offerings may have an Italian twist or maybe something simple like a piece of bread topped with cream cheese and caramelised onions.

La Xula Taperia

In the heart of the Gracia neighbourhood, this modern and stylish bar offers the closest thing to a Granadino-style free plate of tapas. Rather than just a small piece of bread topped with an ingredient, their free offerings include meatballs, anchovies or even ensaladilla rusa (Russian potato salad).

Casa Arana

Located in the heart of the Sant Andreu neighbourhood, not far from the metro stop of the same name, Casa Arana is a small local barrio bar. As well as the regular drinks on offer, they make their own beer in either tostada (toasted) or rubia (pale) varieties, which is served in a tall glass and looks like an ice cream sundae. The free tapa served with your drink is typically a piece of baguette topped with a simple ingredient such as jamón, chistorra (cured sausage) or cheese.

Cassette Bar

This tapas and cocktail bar located in the heart of Raval has a decidedly 80s themed vibe and name to match. They have been serving free tapas for the past 14 years – something typical like piece of bread and tomato topped with a slice of tortilla (Spanish omelette).

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