Spain Wants the Mediterranean Diet Named a 'World Treasure'

Spain launched a drive Monday to win European support for a bid to include the traditional Mediterranean diet on a U.N. list of protected world cultural treasures.

Spanish officials say the cuisine based on olive oil, fish and vegetables should be the first diet on the UNESCO list of traditions, festivals, rituals and crafts from around the world which the U.N. body certifies as part of a unique cultural heritage.

No diets are currently on the list, but Spain quickly received backing from its Iberian neighbor, Portugal.

It is "a very good idea by a member state with a very good cuisine, just like Portugal, France, Italy and Greece," said Portugal's Agriculture Minister Jaime Silva, whose country holds the EU presidency.

Spain wants the diet included when UNESCO updates its cultural heritage list this year.

The U.N. cultural agency's compilation of so-called "intangible" cultural treasures complements its better-known list of World heritage sites that includes Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty in New York.

"We have high hopes for this endeavor and believe that the characteristics of this exemplary diet will make it clearly deserving of the distinction, which is why we will spare no effort in championing it," said a document presented by Spain to a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.

It said medical studies found the Mediterranean diet's blend of olive oil, fresh fruit, vegetables and fish, combined with a "moderate" intake of wine provides "a quality nutritional model: rich, varied, balanced, healthy and appetizing."

It leads to fewer heart problems and a longer life, the document said.

It said the diet was "a very important component of the cultural, social, territorial, environmental and gastronomic heritage" of the countries and peoples in the region, "historically forming part of a way of life."

It did not mention a Spanish government study released in May that found that half of Spain's adults were overweight or obese.

That study did not offer an explanation of why Spaniards are getting heavier, but health experts and doctors often blame sedentary lifestyles dominated by television and computers, and changing dietary habits in which young people eat more junk food.