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Homegrown fast food of cheese pies, souvlaki widens waistlines December 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece, Health & Fitness.
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Research shows that once-healthy Greeks are supersizing themselves with sugary, high-fat fare

The massive popularity of fast food, and its downside, have inspired films such as Morgan Spurlock’s award-winning documentary “Super Size Me” and, more recently, Richard Linklater’s “Fast Food Nation.”

Recent research shows that fast food has also changed Greek eating habits.

A homemade hamburger can be a complete meal, albeit a high-calorie one, and it can also be nutritious, since, at its best, it would contain ingredients from all basic food groups. But nobody prefers homemade hamburgers, and there’s a reason: The worse they are for our health, the better they taste.

Fast-food burgers usually contain a high-calorie sauce, tasteless vegetables, practically synthetic bread and more than a little fried bacon, cheese and even an extra burger patty. The burger itself also comprises several servings, instead of just one. That’s the way things are in the fast-food world.

A survey conducted by the Greek Quality of Life Consumer Union (EKPOIZO) five years ago showed that, depending on the ingredients and the amount of fat it contains, a hamburger may provide between 295 to 904 calories. The latter figure is half of the daily calorie requirement for an adult female. People rarely eat a hamburger without a side dish of fried potatoes or at least a soda. That’s how a supposedly light meal at a fast-food outlet can easily furnish as much as 1,500 calories.

Even so, people who have just scarfed down such a high-calorie meal will soon feel hungry again because the high-fat, high-carb foods quickly raise blood-sugar levels.

As for quality, hamburger ingredients are often of undisclosed origin and composition, sometimes soya is substituted for meat, for instance, the potatoes are often fried in oil that has been reused far too often, and the ketchup is not just tomato puree but a sugar-filled concoction.

Souvlaki Nation > Greeks seem to be resisting some fast food but not sandwiches, cheese pies (tyropittas) and snacks. We may not be mad about hamburgers, but what Greek can resist a kebab with pita and lashings of tzatziki?

The Greeks most likely to go for fast food are under the age of 24, while children and adolescents have the worst eating habits.

A study carried out by the Consumers’ Protection Center (KEPKA) shows that the number of Greeks who eat at fast-food outlets has decreased by 18 percent since 2003, but they do eat souvlaki. The Greek fast-food outlets, souvlaki shops, are a perennial favorite.

A study by the Aristides Daskalopoulos Foundation shows that when it comes to fast food, more than seven out of 10 Greeks prefer souvlaki, with sandwiches and hamburgers the next most popular. When we order food to be delivered to our homes, the majority of Greeks (68.3 percent) choose pizza, with souvlaki the second preference.

Another survey, conducted throughout Greece by VPRC in 2005, showed that, despite a changing lifestyle and heavy workloads, a significant proportion of Greeks do not go for fast food. Asked how many times a week they got takeout food for home or the office, 68 percent of those in the sample replied “never,” 14 percent “once a week” and 9 percent “twice a week.” Three percent of them responded “every day.” In contrast, 44 percent of those aged 18-24 said they eat fast food twice a week.

The overwhelming majority of those in the sample (84 percent) said they ate home-cooked food every day. This does not, of course, mean that they have a healthy diet. According to the same survey, 46 percent of those questioned said they had changed their eating habits in the past few years, while 72 percent believe they adhere to a healthy diet.

This does not exactly jibe with the impression we get of Greek dietary habits, judging by the growing rate of obesity in this country. Greek children are the fattest in the European Union, putting them at risk of suffering serious health disorders in adulthood.

The culprit, in part, is fast food, which contains very high amounts of calories, sugar and fats. Worst of all, it gets youngsters addicted to consuming large quantities of salt and sugar, making healthy, home-cooked food taste insipid by contrast.

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